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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have a specific standard covering measles, but agency requirements or regulations could come into play if employers fail to protect their employees from such hazards.
OSHA has used the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause to cite employers when no specific standards exist for certain workplace hazards. To prove a violation of the clause, the secretary of Labor must establish:
● A condition or activity in the workplace presented a hazard
● The employer or its industry recognized the hazard
● The hazard was causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm
● A feasible and effective means existed to eliminate or materially reduce the hazard
“Typically for infectious diseases, if OSHA were to get interested — and that’s kind of a big if — they have the power to cite under the general duty clause,” said Bernard Tisdale, office manager shareholder of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C.’s Charlotte, North Carolina, office who advises and defends employers on OSHA compliance issues.
The agency could use the clause if measles presented a workplace hazard because there is a known risk involved, but with measles, “I don’t see OSHA getting involved” other than receiving and responding to an employee complaint or investigating a serious outbreak, he said.
Other OSHA requirements may also apply to preventing occupational exposure to measles, according to the agency. OSHA’s personal protective equipment standards in general industry and construction require the use of gloves, eye and face protection and respiratory protection, while OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard applies to occupational exposure to some human body fluids, including saliva in dental procedures, which can transmit measles.
The agency is examining a potential standard for protecting employees in specified industries, such as health care, from measles and other infectious diseases. But it is lingering on the longterm action list, meaning no agency action is expected for 12 months following its publication in the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which was last released in May.
“That’s not going to get anywhere,” Mr. Tisdale said. But “OSHA’s website is a fantastic information source,” he said.
For example, the agency recently published a new measles safety and health topics page that provides an overview of the disease and information on developing infection control plans and prevention measures for workers in general and for those who may be at higher risk, including health care and dental workers, childcare and school workers, and employees traveling abroad.
“What we’ve tried to do … not just for measles, but for infectious diseases in general, is try to be ahead of the curve,” Amanda Edens, director, OSHA’s directorate of technical support and emergency management, told members of the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health in Washington last month.
“We did the same thing when we started to see Zika cases in the Caribbean. We did the same thing with Ebola even though Ebola never fully got here. OSHA and our federal partners have really ramped up to figure out what would we do if a lot more of these (measles) cases started getting into our health care system and how can we plan to protect our workers,” she said.
With measles cases increasing more than tenfold in the past three years, employers face a conundrum when dealing with infectious disease outbreaks creeping into the workplace.