OSHA Standards Protect Workers from Exposure to Ebola

Can an employer receive an OSHA citation for failing to protect its employees from exposure to the Ebola virus? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. While most workers in the United States are unlikely to encounter the Ebola virus, workers whose jobs involve healthcare, airline and other transportation operations, cleaning, and environmental services, may be at higher risk for exposure. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSH Act”), employers are responsible for ensuring that workers are protected from exposure to the virus.

OSHA actually has many standards to choose from when deciding whether or not to issue a citation. OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) covers exposure to the Ebola virus. In situations where workers may be exposed to bioaerosols containing the virus, employers must also follow OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134). Other elements of infection control for Ebola, including a number of precautions for contact-transmittable diseases, are covered under OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard (29 CFR 1910.132) and Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act itself. These are only some of the standards that may be applicable to work place exposure to the virus.

OSHA has released a new factsheet, based on existing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to help employers who may be exposed to the Ebola virus. This factsheet may be obtained at OSHA’s Ebola web page. The web page provides information regarding the origins of the Ebola virus, hazard recognition, medical information, the standards discussed above, how to control and prevent Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), and additional resources.

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