Law protects emergency workers
Compulsory tests for those who expose police, firefighters,
EMTs to bodily fluids
Duncan Thorne, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Thursday, September 13
EDMONTON - When a criminal spat blood in Sgt. Mark Bloxham's
eyes back in 1999, he unwittingly triggered a process that led
to mandatory testing for HIV and other communicable diseases.
"I was recently married," Bloxham recalled Wednesday, as the
provincial government announced that its Mandatory Testing and
Disclosure Act will take effect as of Oct. 1. "We were trying to
start a family right at that time."
The Edmonton officer went home and told his wife he may have
been infected with a contagious disease such as HIV, or
hepatitis B or C. But he wasn't sure if the man who spat at him
A suspect's face is wrapped to protect officers from bodily
In Bloxham's case there was a way to find out, but only
because the spitter was involved in a criminal offence. That
opened the way to seek a search warrant on the man's medical
records, which confirmed -- more than three weeks later -- that
he had HIV and hep C.
Until Bloxham heard the bad news he lived with uncertainty.
He should have started on a cocktail of preventative drugs
within three days but waited eight or nine days.
It turned out he was not infected. But the delayed treatment
meant he had to wait a year to be sure, before starting a
family. Police say they need to know quickly if someone exposing
an officer to bodily fluids was carrying a communicable disease.
Bloxham, who credits others with helping him, started pushing
He worked with the police department to update training and
EPS arranged for 24-hour emergency nursing. He and others also
pushed for legislation providing for compulsory testing of
people who expose police, firefighters, paramedics and other
emergency responders to bodily fluids.
"It is a very good day," said Bloxham, who patrols the north
The legislation means an emergency worker, and even Good
Samaritans, can go to a judge or justice of the peace, armed
with a doctor's report.
They can apply for an order compelling someone who has
contaminated them with bodily fluids to provide a medical
Emergency services has 24-hour medical staff, making it
practical to file an application quickly. It's expected an
exposed person will get the results of a mandatory test within
The legislature unanimously passed a private member's bill
for mandatory testing, the Blood Samples Act, in 2004. But the
government never developed the necessary regulations and did not
enforce the act.
That was deliberate, said Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas
Lukaszuk, who sponsored the 2004 law. There were fears it would
not withstand a charter challenge. So in 2006 the legislature
passed the improved Mandatory Testing and Disclosure Act, a
Lukaszuk and Health Minister Dave Hancock said the government
has worked since then to draw up regulations that should hold up
in court, while winning support from various parties such as
"Health care professionals were concerned about health
records and privacy of health concerns and that sort of thing,"
As well as being spat on, emergency workers have been stabbed
with needles and bitten.
Police Chief Mike Boyd said his officers experienced 40
body-fluid exposures in 2006 and have faced such cases 12 times
so far this year. "Of those 12, two people have refused -- I
repeat, refused -- to provide a blood sample."
The new law will end such problems, Boyd said. He said it
brings peace of mind for emergency workers across the province.
Emergency Medical Services Chief Steve Rapanos said
paramedics were jabbed with needles or otherwise exposed to body
fluids 18 times last year. There have been 14 similar incidents
so far in 2007.
Fire Chief Randy Wolsey said his staff have been exposed to
body fluids five times so far this year.