OSHA updates guidance on avian flu

Nov 15, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Labor yesterday released revised Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance to help employers protect their workers from job-related exposure to H5N1 avian influenza.

In a press release yesterday, OSHA Administrator Ed Foulke encouraged employees and employers who are most likely to be exposed to avian flu to take appropriate precautions. "This guidance offers them practical tips, such as hand washing and the use of proper protective equipment, for preventing illness," he said.

The OSHA guidance, last updated in 2004, gives separate recommendations for several specific employee groups that may be most likely to encounter animals or people infected with the H5N1 virus. The groups include poultry workers, animal handlers, laboratory personnel, healthcare workers, food handlers, travelers, and Americans living abroad. The main thrust is on proper hygiene techniques, such as use of gloves and handwashing, along with respiratory protection.

For many of these groups, OSHA's guidance incorporates interim recommendations from other agencies and groups. For example, the poultry worker guidance includes from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The OSHA recommendations also incorporate CDC recommendations for lab workers, healthcare personnel, and airline workers who have contact with passengers.

The longest set of recommendations is the one for poultry workers. It instructs employees on signs of possible avian flu in poultry, reviews basic infection control measures, and gives a protocol for proper protective equipment use. It includes the CDC recommendation that all unvaccinated employees receive seasonal influenza vaccine and that all workers who have direct contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces receive a prophylactic dose of antiviral medication on each day of exposure and for 1 week following their last exposure.

In the food-handler recommendations, the OSHA guidance says that the two groups most at risk are restaurant cooks and those grocery store employees who handle raw chicken.

Also included in the OSHA recommendations are several appendices that provide detailed information on the history of the H5N1 virus, the biology of flu viruses, the symptoms of H5N1 infection in humans, import restrictions on birds from certain countries, pandemics, and additional resources.

See also:

Updated OSHA guidance on protecting employees from avian flu
http://www.osha.gov/dsg/guidance/avian-flu.html

Nov 14 US Department of Labor press release on OSHA guidance
http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=13018

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