Is Ebola Still a Threat to US Workers?-September 2017

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety

September 2017

IN THIS ISSUE: Is Ebola still a threat to US Workers?

In May 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of undiagnosed illness and deaths including Ebola symptoms in the north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On July 2, 2017, WHO announced that this latest outbreak was under control. Ebola virus disease (formerly known as Ebola Hemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness, with a death rate of up to 90% caused by Ebola virus. Ebola HF symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. People can become exposed via direct contact with blood and/or secretions of an infected person. No specific treatment or vaccine is yet available for Ebola HF.

This latest outbreak demonstrates that Ebola is still a threat. With the availability and convenience of air transport around the world, it is important that employers have a plan to deal with any new outbreak. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorizes Ebola virus as a Category A select agent, which includes high-priority agents that pose a risk to national security. It states that employers must protect their workers from exposure to Ebola virus on the job. This generally includes healthcare workers or family members caring for a sick individual, airline flight crew, servicing and cargo employees, laboratory workers, mortuary and death care workers, individuals involved in border protection, customs, and quarantine operations, emergency responders, and other workers in other critical sectors that may come into contact with sick individuals or their body fluids.
OSHA advises the following:

  • Employers should follow recognized and generally accepted good infection control practices, and must comply with applicable requirements in the Bloodborne Pathogens regulatons
  • Practice good hand hygiene protocols to avoid exposure to infected blood and body fluids, contaminated objects, or other contaminated environmental surfaces.
  • Workers who may be splashed, sprayed, or spattered with blood or body fluids from environmental surfaces where Ebola virus contamination is possible must wear face and eye protection, such as a full-face shield or surgical masks with goggles. Aprons or other fluid-resistant protective clothing must also be worn in these situations to prevent the workers’ clothes from being soiled with infectious material.
  • Workers tasked with cleaning surfaces that may be contaminated with Ebola virus must be protected from exposure.
  • Workers involved in handling, treatment, transport, and disposal of medical, laboratory, and other potentially contaminated waste must be protected from exposure to infectious agents, including Ebola virus, Contaminated waste may pose a greater risk to workers if it is not handled safely or packaged, treated, and disposed of properly.
  • Healthcare workers and responders involved with cases related to Ebola may be required to work extended, rotating, consecutive, or otherwise unusual shifts. They also need enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) when working with Ebola patients or in Ebola-contaminated areas. These conditions increase the risk of injuries and accidents and can contribute to poor health and worker fatigue.
  • Employers must train workers about the sources of Ebola exposure and appropriate precautions.
Since the outbreak of Ebola in the US in 2014, there have been no known cases of the disease. WHO continues to monitor and control cases in Africa and the CDC monitors the situation domestically. Employers, especially those connected to the health care industry, should have a plan to deal with any outbreak that may occur in the future.
For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or visit us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

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