OSHA Issues Special Zika Guidance to Employers
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued “interim guidance” to provide employers and workers information and advice on preventing occupational exposure to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
The guidance’s recommended actions (Control & Prevention) for employers and general outdoor workers include the following:
Employers should inform workers about their risks of exposure.
Employers should provide workers insect repellants and encourage their use. Workers should use the repellants.
Employers should provide workers with clothing that covers their hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin and encourage them to wear the clothing. They also should consider providing workers with hats with mosquito netting that covers the neck and face. Workers should wear the provided clothing, as well as socks that cover the ankles and lower legs.
In warm weather, employers should encourage workers to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, which provides a barrier to mosquitos. Workers should wear this type of clothing.
Employers and workers should eliminate sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, and barrels), which are considered mosquito breeding areas. Employers should train workers to recognize the importance of getting rid of these breeding areas at worksites.
If requested, employers should consider reassigning to indoor tasks any female worker who indicates she is pregnant or may become pregnant, as well as any male worker who has a sexual partner who is pregnant or may become pregnant. Workers in these circumstances should talk to their supervisors about outdoor work assignments.
Workers should seek medical attention “promptly” if symptoms from infection develop.
Employers and workers in healthcare and laboratory settings are advised to follow good infection control and biosafety practices (including universal precautions) as appropriate and specific biosafety guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for working with the Zika virus in the laboratory.
OSHA also noted that mosquito control workers may require additional precautions — more protective clothing and enhanced skin protection — beyond those recommended for general outdoor workers. Workers who mix, load, apply, or perform other tasks involving wide-area (or area) insecticides may need additional protection to prevent or reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals. When applying insecticides, these workers may require respirators, worn in accordance with OSHA’s respirator standard.
For employers of workers with suspected or confirmed Zika virus, OSHA recommends “general guidance.” This includes making certain supervisors and potentially exposed workers know about Zika symptoms, training workers to receive immediate medical attention after suspected exposure, and considering options for providing sick leave during the infectious period.
Employers with workers who travel to or through Zika-affected areas, such as travel industry employees, airline crews, and cruise line workers, the agency recommends following certain “precautions” outlined by the CDC, including flexible travel and leave policies and delaying travel to Zika-affected areas.