Friday, February 20, 2015

Ebola: The Standards

This section highlights OSHA standards, preambles to final rules, and directives (instructions for compliance officers) that may be applicable in the event of possible worker exposure to the Ebola virus.

OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) covers exposure to Ebola virus. Ebola is among the subset of contact-transmissible diseases to which the Bloodborne Pathogens standard applies, as it is transmitted by blood or other potentially infectious materials as defined in the standard.

In situations where workers may be exposed to bioaerosols containing Ebola virus, employers must also follow OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134).

Other elements of infection control for Ebola, including a number of precautions for contact-transmissible diseases, are covered under OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard (29 CFR 1910.132) and Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, often referred to as the General Duty Clause. Section 5(a)(1) requires employers to "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." This section may be used to address hazards for which there are no specific standards (e.g., occupational exposure to Ebola virus).

Under the Bloodborne Pathogens standard, and the PPE and other standards, OSHA has the ability to require employers to fully protect healthcare and other workers who may be exposed to Ebola virus. The best way to determine appropriate protections for workers exposed to Ebola is to consult the CDC guidance, which includes recommendations for PPE and infection control practices from CDC's Ebola web page.

Employers also must protect their workers from exposure to chemicals used for cleaning and disinfection. Employers would likely need to comply with provisions from a combination of OSHA standards and CDC guidance in order to implement a comprehensive worker protection program.

Paragraph 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for raising concerns about safety and health conditions. OSHA encourages workers who suffer such discrimination to submit a complaint to OSHA. Such complaints must be filed within 30 days.

Depending on the specific work task, setting, and exposure to biological or chemical agents, additional OSHA standards, including the following, may also apply:

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)
Preambles to final rules
Memoranda of Understanding
Additional guidance is available on the Control and Prevention and Additional Information tabs.

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