OSHA requires employers to provide safe jobs and workplaces for their employees. And generally employers can rely upon established OSHA standards to guide them in reaching that goal. But faced with employers’ numerous questions and concerns regarding Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola) now that several patients with Ebola have been treated in the United States, OSHA has been slow to provide answers.
To date, OSHA has advised employers that certain established standards may apply in the event of possible worker exposure to Ebola. The agency has also issued a Fact Sheet providing guidance for workers and employers in non-healthcare/non-laboratory settings on cleaning and decontamination of Ebola on surfaces. In addition, OSHA has made clear that the so-called “General Duty Clause,” which requires employers to keep their workplaces free of recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm to workers may be used to fill any gaps that existing OSHA standards do not cover, enabling OSHA to issue citations to employers that it determines have not taken every appropriate precaution to protect its employees.
In the absence of more specific guidance from OSHA, employers can take several steps now to reduce the risk of receiving an OSHA citation and, more importantly, help protect their employees from exposure to Ebola:
- Conduct a risk assessment at your workplace, documenting your findings and actions taken to address the any identified issues.
- Provide additional training necessary to protect employees from any risks identified in the risk assessment.
- Inform employees if any of their job activities may put them at risk for exposure to Ebola.
- Ensure that your employees have been provided with all of the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for them to safely do their jobs.
- Ensure that employees fully understand how to use the PPE by providing training on its use and conducting practice sessions using the equipment.
- Establish a policy requiring supervisors to provide updated Ebola-related information as to employees as it develops.
- Establish a point of contact for employees to address any questions they may have related to Ebola.
Above all, employers must keep open lines of communication with their employees. Employees may be fearful about their work conditions right now and need to know that their employers are on top of the situation and doing everything possible to ensure employee health and safety. This will not only improve employee morale – it will also reduce the likelihood of an unhappy employee filing a whistleblowing complaint with OSHA.