Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Protecting Workers from Ebola Virus

Introduction

Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) (sometimes called Ebola Virus Disease, or EVD) is the disease caused by infection with an Ebola virus. It is a type of viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) brought on by any of several strains of viruses in the Ebolavirus genus. Ebola viruses are capable of causing severe, life-threatening disease. Many people who get EHF die from it. Workers performing tasks involving close contact with symptomatic individuals with EHF or in environments contaminated or reasonably anticipated to be contaminated with infectious body fluids are at risk of exposure. These workers may include workers in the healthcare, mortuary and death care, airline, and other travel service industries.

EHF is usually marked by fever, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. The illness progression includes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and impaired organ function. In some cases, rash, internal and/or external bleeding, and death may occur.

In areas of Africa where Ebola viruses are common, suspected reservoirs include primate and bat populations. While there are no known animal reservoirs of the disease in the U.S., there is concern related to possible spread of EHF among human populations due to the availability and reach of global travel. Under certain conditions, exposure to just one viral particle can result in development of EHF. Depending on the strain and the individual infected with the disease, EHF may be fatal in 50-90 percent of cases.1,2

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorizes Ebola virus as a Category A select agent. This group includes high-priority agents that pose a risk to national security because they can be easily disseminated or transmitted from person to person; result in high mortality rates and have the potential for major public health impact; might cause public panic and social disruption; and require special action for public health preparedness. Because symptoms of EHF may appear consistent with many other illnesses (e.g., influenza, malaria), diagnosis and treatment of EHF could be delayed during an outbreak. Employers must protect their workers from exposure to Ebola virus on the job.

These next few postings will provide information about Ebola viruses and EHF for workers and employers, including the following topics:
  • Background, including the origins of Ebola virus and EHF
  • Hazard recognition
  • Medical information
  • Standards for protecting workers from Ebola virus
  • Control and prevention of EHF
  • Additional resources

How do I find out about employer responsibilities and worker rights?

Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or worker rights.

OSHA has a great deal of information to assist employers in complying with their responsibilities under the OSHA law.

OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to OSHA's Regional & Area Offices webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).

Small business employers may contact OSHA's free and confidential on-site consultation service to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites and work with OSHA on correcting any identified hazards. On-site consultation services are separate from enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations. To contact OSHA's free consultation service, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.

Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Employees can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eCompliant Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to your local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by an employee are more likely to result in an inspection.

If you think your job is unsafe or you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). It's confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.

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