In August 2016, the CDC confirmed that there are cases of the Zika virus in Florida, acquired from mosquitoes in the state, and also cases of travel-related Zika. Other states in the Southeast have also confirmed travel-related Zika cases. The spread of the virus domestically, at this point, may be inevitable. This has triggered significant discussion about how to protect outdoor workers. In the work truck industry, with workers braving the outdoors doing landscaping, utility work, and pickup and delivery, adding bug spray to the toolbox may be required.
OSHA is now taking on Zika and issuing interim guidance that will be updated as more information becomes available on this emergent workplace hazard. OSHA reminds employers that they have an obligation to provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards” to its workers, under threat of General Duty Clause citations and their maximum penalty of $124,709 per violation. Occupational contraction of Zika falls within the scope of this “general duty.”
OSHA ZIKA WARNING
OSHA urges employers to protect workers from getting mosquito bites, given that there is currently no approved Zika vaccine and no specific treatment for infected workers. OSHA expects employers to train workers now about their risks of exposure to Zika, both via mosquito bites and direct contact with infectious blood and bodily fluids, and also on how to protect themselves. Workers who are, or may become pregnant—or whose sexual partners may become pregnant—should be trained on the modes of transmission and the link to birth defects.
If occupational exposure and transmission occurs, and no mitigating action was taken to reduce exposure to the extent feasible, employers could have liability for workers’ compensation damage claims, or personal injury tort claims, in addition to possible OSHA citations.
Those who could come in contact with infectious bodily fluids may need specialized personal protective equipment and should follow the protocols in OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (“BBP,” 29 CFR 1910.1030).
OSHA also reminds employers that workers are protected under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act from retaliation arising from the worker raising concerns about workplace safety and health. Similarly, employers cannot retaliate against employees who report an occupational injury or illness, including Zika infection.
Outdoor workers are clearly at a heightened risk of exposure. OSHA recommends that employers take action and inform workers about the risks of exposure through mosquito bites and train them on how to protect themselves. Providing insect repellants and eliminating sources of standing water are recommended. Consider providing clothing to cover arms, legs, and hands, plus hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck. See the online resources listed below for more information.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Donna Campbell is editor in chief of Modern WorkTruck Solutions and Modern Contractor Solutions. This monthly column will feature commentary on trending issues for work truck and transportation matters.