OSHA: Risk of Flu Exposure Varies by Occupation

During a Feb. 6 conference call with reporters, Amanda Edens, deputy director of OSHA's Directorate of Standards and Guidance, explained that the risk of occupational exposure to influenza would depend on whether workers' jobs put them in contact with people who are infected with the virus or with sources of the virus.

Edens told reporters that OSHA's Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influence Pandemic – which the agency unveiled Feb. 6 – divides workplaces and work operations into four risk zones to determine which occupations have the highest to lowest risk of exposure.

The OSHA document presents recommendations for employee protection for each of the four levels of risk. Those recommendations include engineering controls, administrative controls and the use of PPE such as respirators and surgical masks.

According to Edens, some of the other control measures and recommendations outlined in the guidance include good hygiene, cough etiquette and social distancing.

Having the guidance available is important because it empowers businesses to play a key role in protecting their employees' health, OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke told reporters during the conference call. Foulke warned that should a pandemic flu occur, employers might experience employee absences as well as interruptions in supply and of delivery of goods and services.

Foulke and Edens added that there currently is no pandemic and that additional guidance may be needed if a pandemic actually occurs.

Foulke: No Emergency Standard in the Works

When asked by reporters if OSHA will be issuing an emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers against the pandemic flu – as requested by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and several other labor organizations – Foulke replied that the agency still not has come to a decision.

"It's an emerging and revolving issue and we recognize the importance of the matter," Foulke explained.

To view OSHA's new Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic, visit OSHA's Web site.

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