September-October 2016

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 23 of 43

24 PalletCentral • September-October 2016 n August 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed that there are now 42 cases of the Zika virus, which were locally acquired from mosquitoes in Florida. The spread of the virus domestically at this point may be inevitable, and health consequences affect not only pregnant women and their babies (who may be born with profound disabilities including microcephaly) but even healthy adult workers. This has triggered significant discussion and potential legal action about what employers must do to protect outdoor workers, such as those engaged in construction, outdoor loading, storage or loading activities, and landscaping work. In addition, for pallet shops that keep bay doors or loading docks open to the elements, mosquitos can also invade indoor areas and adversely affect workers. Now, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has weighed in, 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" and OSHA has previously issued similar enforcement warnings with respect to the H1N1 pandemic flu and the Ebola virus. For its part, the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) is monitoring the spread of Zika in the continental United States and its territories, as well as in other regions where workers may have visited and become infected before returning to the U.S. The case statistics continue to grow disturbingly. As of August 10, 2016, the continental U.S. has nearly 2,000 travel-associated Zika cases, and 42 sexually transmitted or locally mosquito-acquired cases; but when U.S. territories are included, they add 31 travel- related cases and over 6,500 locally acquired cases. The vast majority of cases currently are in Puerto Rico, where a public health emergency has been declared by the U.S. government, which will allow the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to award grants, access emergency funds and temporarily appoint personnel where needed. In terms of adverse health consequences, there has been one infant Zika death reported in Texas, and the potential number of infected mothers and infants is still being tabulated. Meanwhile, the continental U.S. and its territories have recorded 26 Zika-related cases in adults of Guillain-Barré syndrome. Guillain-Barré syndrome is a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances the symmetrical weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the person is almost totally paralyzed and the condition becomes life threatening because it can impact breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. There is no known cure for Guillain- Barré syndrome. In its warnings to employers, OSHA notes that the Zika virus has the potential to spread wherever mosquitoes capable of spreading the disease are found, including the southern and southwestern states. Symptoms are often mild and begin within a week of being infected, but often those infected are unaware of the illness even though they can sexually transmit it to others for an extended period of time. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and "pink eye" but victims may also have muscle pain, headache or even neurological and autoimmune complications. Infected infants can suffer brain defects, eye and hearing deficits, and impaired growth. OSHA urges employers to protect workers from getting mosquito bites, given that there is no currently 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 SAFETY I Zika Is Now An OSHA Issue By Adele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

view archives of palletcentral - September-October 2016