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With Ebola an increasing concern, advocacy groups are calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to quickly move forward with an infectious-disease rule that has been on the docket since 2010. Although OSHA has created a new web page with information about protecting workers in industries at high risk of exposure, including healthcare, the agency has been slow in implementing directives.

OSHA’s new website provides Ebola guidelines for:

  • Cleaning and disinfection of contaminated surfaces
  • Use of protective equipment (such as gloves, gowns, face shield/goggles and facemasks)
  • Waste disposal of contaminated material
  • Use of appropriate respiratory protection (respirators)

These are only guidelines and not regulations. Currently, the only OSHA disease-specific requirements to protect healthcare workers are standards that were created in the 1980s in response to HIV and hepatitis.

OSHA Healthcare Regulatory Initiative Begins in 2010

In 2010 amid fears of the H1N1 flu, OSHA began an initiative for control regulation, which would affect hospitals, ambulatory-care centers, long-term and home health facilities, laboratories and other relevant workplaces. In June 2014, OSHA announced plans to convene a review panel to provide insight into this regulation.

Advocacy Group Urges OSHA to Speed up Regulatory Process

In October 2014, the American Industrial Hygiene Association called on OSHA to speed up its regulatory process. “Diseases like Ebola create public concern for the health and safety of healthcare workers, and it is only a matter of time before this concern spreads to other workers,” said the group’s executive director, Peter O’Neil. “The rule is an absolute necessity to assist in controlling this virus,” he said.

OSHA Official Reluctant to Set Timetable

When OSHA official Jordan Barab was asked whether the Ebola outbreak would speed up the process for an infectious-disease rule, he acknowledged the need for OSHA involvement, but said “in order to fulfill that role we need to have up-to-date standards and make sure they are enforceable.”

As of October 2014, at least two nurses from the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas have contracted the virus since the first case was reported. Without adequate regulation, the number of cases could increase and potentially involve other workers and eventually the general population.