For much of the past year, a surge in cases of the Zika virus originating in Brazil and spreading north through the Caribbean and parts of the Southern United States has been a major public health issue. Spread primarily via the bite of infected mosquitoes, the Zika virus causes flu like symptoms (fever, rash, joint pain) and has been shown to cause birth defects when contracted by women early in a pregnancy.
There have been close to 400 confirmed cases of Zika virus disease in the United States, and with mosquito season approaching the risk is sufficient enough that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has issued guidelines to employers for curbing the risk of workplace exposure to the virus through mosquito bites or contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
Summary of Guidelines
OSHA’s general protocols concerning bloodborne pathogens are to be applied to cases of potential Zika exposure in all workplaces: “Universal precautions shall be observed to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials.” More specific guidelines are laid out by OSHA according to the nature of workplaces where employees are particularly at risk.
Outdoor Workers & Mosquito Control Workers
Recommended employer action includes the following:
- Informing workers about risks of Zika exposure, especially in Zika-affected areas
- Providing insect repellents and encouraging their proper use
- Providing and encouraging the wearing of clothing that covers hands, arms, legs, etc.
- Taking seriously requests by workers for reassignment or different job duties due to Zika concerns
- Get rid of sources of standing water wherever possible to discourage mosquito breeding
In addition, outdoor workers are encouraged to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, seek medical attention if Zika-like symptoms develop, and take special care if they or a partner are pregnant or might become pregnant. Those in mosquito control industries should heed the above advice with extra caution and special care given to minimizing harmful exposure to chemicals.
Healthcare and Lab Workers
In addition to compliance with all relevant bloodborne pathogen regulations for their industries, employers and workers in medical, scientific, or other laboratory fields are expected to adhere to the following guidelines:
- Properly dispose of contaminated needles or other sharp objects in closable, puncture-resistant, leak-proof, and labeled or color-coded containers
- Use sharps with engineered sharps injury protection (SESIP) to avoid sharps-related injuries
- Report cuts, sticks, lacerations, and other potential exposure incidents to supervisors immediately
- Provide and properly utilize gloves, respiratory protection, and any other personal protective equipment that may be necessary based on the nature of proposed work
Guidelines for Employers of Workers with Suspected or Confirmed Zika
In cases where prevention fails and an employee contracts or is suspected of contracting Zika, employers should do the following:
- Make all supervisors and potentially exposed workers aware of the situation
- Make sure workers get a medical evaluation if symptoms develop
- If it is not already offered, consider granting paid sick leave to employees who have recently contracted Zika
Individual workers with confirmed or suspected Zika are encouraged to follow these guidelines:
- Get plenty of rest and stay hydrated
- Reduce fever using acetaminophen (avoid NSAIDs)
- Avoid mosquito bites during the first week of infection to prevent spreading the virus
- Abstain from sexual activity
- Get proper medical attention if needed
More Information and Resources for Compliance
If you are an employer, you can get the tools you need for compliance with Zika guidelines and other workplace regulations at 1stAidSupplies.com. A leading supplier of industrial first aid kits, first aid cabinets, personal protective equipment like gloves, hard hats, spill kits, respiratory protection, and more, 1stAidSupplies.com offers businesses the compliance tools they need at prices well below the competition. Their convenient online store offers customers easy ordering of their entire catalog with fast shipping and secure payment.