For the protection of frontline healthcare and emergency medical workers at high risk of infection, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a compliance directive to ensure uniform procedures when conducting inspections to identify and minimize or eliminate high to very high risk occupational exposures to the 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus. The directive closely follows the Centers for Disease Control’s guidance.
“OSHA has a responsibility to ensure that the more than nine million frontline healthcare workers in the United States are protected to the extent possible against exposure to the virus,” said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. “OSHA will ensure healthcare employers use proper controls to protect all workers, particularly those who are at high or very high risk of exposure.”
In response to complaints, OSHA inspectors will ensure that healthcare employers implement a hierarchy of controls and encourage vaccination and other work practices recommended by the CDC. Where respirators are required to be used, the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard must be followed, including worker training and fit testing. The directive also applies to institutional settings where some workers may have similar exposures, such as schools and correctional facilities.
The CDC recommends the use of respiratory protection that is at least as protective as a fit tested disposable N95 respirator for healthcare personnel who are in close contact (within 6′) with patients who have suspected or confirmed 2009 H1N1 influenza. Where respirators are not commercially available, an employer will be considered to be in compliance if the employer can show a good faith effort has been made to acquire respirators.
Where OSHA inspectors determine that a facility has not violated any OSHA requirements but that additional measures could enhance the protection of employees, OSHA may provide the employer with a hazard alert letter outlining suggested measures to further protect workers.
The 2009 H1N1 influenza is transmitted via direct or indirect person-to-person spreading of infectious droplets passed when an influenza patient coughs, sneezes, talks, or breathes. Transmission occurs when expelled infectious droplets or particles make direct or indirect contact with the mucus membranes of the mouth, nose or eyes of an uninfected person. The OSHA directive and other guidelines show steps to eliminate the hazard.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA’s role is to promote safe and healthful working conditions for America’s men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, outreach and education.