Chao Unveils the Anthrax Matrix

U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao today announced the Anthrax Matrix - a new model to assist employers and employees in dealing with possible workplace exposures to anthrax in mail handling operations.

The Matrix: A science fiction movie about a society which is not what it seems. Everything is fine in the life of the hero until one day, when everything changes and everything he thinks he knows about his life is called into question.

The same can be said of life in the United States before and after Sept. 11. As a result, the term "matrix" is taking on another meaning.

U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao today announced the Anthrax Matrix - a new model to assist employers and employees in dealing with possible workplace exposures to anthrax in mail handling operations.

The Matrix guides employers in assessing risk to their workers, providing appropriate protective equipment and specifying safe work practices for low, medium and high risk levels in the workplace.

"Most employers and employees face little or no risk of exposure to anthrax and need only minimal precautions," Chao said. "But some may have to deal with potential or known exposures, and we want to make sure they have all possible information available to protect Americans at their workplace."

Chao pointed out that there have been only four deaths and 17 confirmed cases of anthrax infection but indicated that the department wants to be proactive in assisting employers and workers concerned about anthrax and other potential terrorist threats.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) developed the matrix in consultation with the U.S. Postal Service, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FBI. OSHA expects to continually update information on anthrax and other terrorism threats as new guidance becomes available.

"The OSHA information is easy to access and understand," Chao said. "We are providing needed guidance, not creating new requirements. The world has changed since Sept. 11. Threats to our national security now can clearly involve the workplace."

John L. Henshaw, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, noted that OSHA''s role remains the same - assuring the safety and health of America''s workers - but added that "the paradigm has shifted. We must shift with it to provide the best possible guidance to help employers and employees address new threats."

The Anthrax Matrix, shaped like a pyramid, includes three sections: green for low, yellow for medium and red for high risk of exposure. Each section links to useful information and practical guidance to help determine an appropriate response.

The Matrix is available on OSHA''s Web site at www.osha.gov. There is also general information on anthrax and mail handling procedures on the agency''s Web site, links to detailed information from CDC, the U.S. Postal Service, the FBI and other sources of information on biological and chemical hazards and emergency preparedness.

by Sandy Smith

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