For the second time in less than a year, OSHA has cited the Immigration and Naturalization Service''s Houston office for failing to properly protect workers from diseases potentially spread by immigrants such as tuberculosis (TB).
Repeating some of the same concerns initially expressed last April, OSHA handed the INS a 23-count citation charging that immigration workers did not receive respirators and training needed to avoid contracting diseases from immigrants.
INS workers "were exposed to the hazard of being infected with TB or other airborne infectious agents through repeated prolonged indoor/closed space contact with individuals who may be infected with tuberculosis or other airborne infectious agents," according to the notice from OSHA.
The notice, including the 23-count citation, referred to workers at the main Houston office and a detention facility near Bush Intercontinental Airport.
The report also said, latex gloves were not always available to workers doing fingerprinting or other duties with the potential for exposure to bloodborne illness, and training was not adequate.
TB, a serious respiratory disease, can be spread by coughing. But transmission usually requires prolonged exposure to a victim.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted, in a report released last month, that within two years, up to half the TB cases in the United States would be found in the foreign-born.
Because the INS is a government entity, the citation carries no fines. But John Lawson, head of Houston''s OSHA area office, said the agency still has the power to force the INS to comply.
If the INS were to violate safety regulations yet again, "then we would go out and check again," said Lawson.
The notice gives the INS until May 1 to resolve all of the problems.
by Virginia Sutcliffe