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Protecting Non-Healthcare Workers from Ebola

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Most workers in the United States are not likely to be exposed to the Ebola, or to come in contact with someone who has contracted Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF). Even so, employers in a broad range of industries are understandably concerned about protecting their employees from the virus.

Healthcare workers obviously are more likely to be at risk of coming in contact with virus than those of other fields. However, those who work in medical laboratory testing or death care are also at risk. So too are those who work in the travel industry, from airline service personnel to border and custom workers to emergency responders. In fact, anyone who works with equipment arriving into the United States from countries with outbreaks of EHF stands an elevated risk of being exposed to the virus.

OSHA has said that precautionary measures for preventing exposure to the Ebola virus depend on the nature of the work, potential for Ebola-virus contamination of the work environment, and what is known about other potential exposure hazards. In some instances, infection control strategies may have to be modified to include additional personal protective equipment (PPE), administrative controls, and/or safe work practices. OSHA has also developed interim guidance to help prevent worker exposure to Ebola virus and individuals with EHF.

According to OSHA, several existing standards apply in keeping employees who may come in contact with the Ebola virus safe.

Because it is a contact-transmissible disease, Ebola virus exposure is covered by OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (1910.1030). And because workers could be exposed to bioaerosols containing Ebola virus, employers must also follow OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard (1910.134). OSHA has said that employers should follow recognized and generally accepted good infection control practices, and must meet applicable requirements in the Personal Protective Equipment standard (29 CFR 1910.132, general requirements), as well.

The following are OSHA’s requirements and recommendations for protecting workers whose work activities are conducted in an environment that is known or reasonably suspected to be contaminated with Ebola virus (such as due to contamination with blood or other potentially infectious material). (These general guidelines are not intended to cover workers who have direct contact with individuals with EHF, however).

•Use proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and good hand hygiene protocols to avoid exposure to infected blood and body fluids, contaminated objects, or other contaminated environmental surfaces.
•Wear gloves, wash hands with soap and water after removing gloves, and discard used gloves in properly labeled waste containers.
•Workers who may be splashed, sprayed, or spattered with blood or body fluids from environmental surfaces where Ebola virus contamination is possible must wear face and eye protection, such as a full-face shield or surgical masks with goggles. Aprons or other fluid-resistant protective clothing must also be worn in these situations to prevent the worker's clothes from being soiled with infectious material.

Both the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide additional guidance and recommendations for preventing worker exposure to Ebola, for both healthcare workers and others at increased risk of exposure.

Tagged in: CDC ebola NIOSH
Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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