In response to growing concerns about the introduction of the deadly Ebola virus into the United States, California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) and its Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) today announced interim guidance for workers who may be exposed to those who are infected. The guidance is geared toward workers and their employers in six general categories based upon potential risks identified by the federal government. Those categories include health care workers, emergency responders, laboratory staff, mortuary workers, airline flight crews and airport staff, and quarantine operations staff.
The new guidelines are an outgrowth of previous California regulations related to infectious diseases such as Ebola. Known as the Aerosol Transmissable Diseases Standard, the regulations were adopted in 2009 to address infections that may be spread by small liquid droplets that may come in contact with mucous membranes. Ebola is one of those diseases and can be spread by contact with an infected person’s blood, feces, and other body fluids.
Cal/OSHA also reminded employers and workers to promptly report any suspected cases of Ebola to the local public health department.
Although the risk of a full blown outbreak of Ebola in the United States is low according to most experts, many in the public have expressed fear and concern, especially after recent events related to the treatment of a patient in Dallas, Texas, who later died of the disease and infected at least two other medical professionals who cared for him. Additionally, residents of Bakersfield and Kern County who are familiar with local oilfield operations, know that some oil companies, including local energy giant Chevron, have operations in West Africa, where the Ebola outbreak is centered. Those operations have employed staff who have transferred from Kern County to Africa. Therefore, local hospitals, airport staff, and emergency responders need to pay close attention to the new guidelines in the event that a transferred worker returns home and displays symptoms.
“California’s workplace safety and health standards go further than national standards in protecting workers from hazards such as Ebola,” said Juliann Sum, Acting Chief of Cal/OSHA. “We urge employers and their workers who may be at risk to pay careful attention to our guidance and check for updates as new information becomes available.”
With the new interim guidance, Cal/OSHA advises employers to do the following to protect at risk workers:
Ensure that they wear gloves, impermeable body coverings, face shields or other eye and face protection, and appropriate respiratory protection. All personal protective equipment (PPE) must be adequate to prevent the passage of bodily fluids to the employee’s clothing and skin. NIOSH-approved respirators must be used where infectious aerosols are likely to be present.
Train employees in the use of all applicable protective equipment, including respirators. Employees must be clearly instructed on how to safely put on and take off equipment.
Give employees opportunities to practice with the respirators and other equipment they will use.
Provide dedicated, separate areas for the donning and removing of protective gear.
Use either a buddy system or other means of assisting employees in donning and removing PPE. Employees who assist in removing contaminated equipment must also use PPE.
Provide additional protective gear, such as double gloves and disposable shoe and leg coverings, in environments where copious amounts of blood, vomit, feces or other bodily fluids are present.
Ensure that workers conducting aerosol-generating procedures such as intubation or bronchoscopy perform the procedures in an airborne infection isolation room, if feasible, or at least in a private room with the door closed.
Employees exposed to these procedures must use NIOSH-approved respirators.
Additional information about Ebola and recommendation safety and protection advice may be found at the following links:
Ebola Virus Information
Guidance for airline workers
CDC Ebola page