OSHA Readies 'Anthrax Matrix'

OSHA officials are hard at work on a document that will help the public determine the risk and address the hazards of anthrax in U.S. workplaces.

OSHA officials are hard at work on a document that will help the public determine the risk and address the hazards of anthrax in U.S. workplaces.

"We''ve been working on this 24/7 because we need to get it out quickly," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw yesterday at the International Safety Equipment Association''s Fall Meeting just outside of Washington, DC.

Henshaw emphasized that OSHA''s effort will not result in new requirements for the nation''s employers. OSHA is capitalizing on the expertise of other federal agencies, such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and boiling this information down to practical advice for workers and employers.

"We''re going to step up to the plate," Henshaw explained, "but we''re not going to re-invent the wheel."

The OSHA chief did not use the word "guidelines" to describe the agency''s anthrax advice - a loaded term because it can be used by workers to sue their employers - preferring instead the term "matrix."

Henshaw explained that the matrix will have a "risk decision logic" to help the public determine if a workplace is at risk. One of the purposes of OSHA''s effort is to reassure the American people that at "99.9 percent of the nation''s workplaces" there is virtually no risk of anthrax exposure. The decision logic will divide the nation''s workplaces into green, yellow, and red zones, based on the level of risk.

Henshaw asserted that nearly all work sites would fall into the green zone, where there is essentially no risk of anthrax exposure.

"We have only 17 cases. This is not an epidemic - it''s a concern that everybody has - but it is still well-confined," he said. He predicted there would be very few yellow zone sites, workplaces that could be in line to receive contaminated mail. OSHA will be suggesting these facilities adopt some of the same precautions put in place by the U.S. Postal Service.

Workplaces where authorities have already detected anthrax will be placed in the red zone, and OSHA''s recommendations here will be in line with findings from the CDC and the Postal Service.

A draft document is nearly ready and it will be released shortly, Henshaw said.

by James Nash

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