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Cal/OSHA Adopts Landmark Communicable Disease Protections

(From the CAL-OSHA Reporter, 05/21/09)

SAN DIEGO — In a move universally supported by stakeholders in a packed meeting this morning, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board adopted two first-in-the-nation standards to protect workers in health care and an array of other workplace settings from diseases that can be spread by coughing and sneezing, and from animals.

The board voted 6-0 to approve the aerosol transmissible and zoonotic disease standards. They add two new regulations — General Industry Safety Orders 5199 and 5199.1, which require employers to devise control methods appropriate to the workplace to protect workers from diseases such as tuberculosis and novel influenza strains. Covered workplaces for ᄃ5199 include health care settings, such as hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices and home health care operations, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, emergency response operations and laboratories. The zoonotics standard covers operations involved in animal handling and was crafted following the bird flu threat several years ago.

Stakeholders from industries as diverse as health care and telecommunications urged the board to adopt the protections. They were exemplified by a registered nurse, who told the board that during the ongoing H1N1 flu outbreak, while patients were handed respirators for their protection, nurses were not provided with them, and in fact were instructed by the employers not to wear them so as not to scare the public. The ATD standard will change that, she said. Other speakers predicted that the standards would pave the way for the rest of the nation.

Board members lauded Division of Occupational Safety and Health senior industrial hygienists Deborah Gold and Robert Nakamura for their work on the regulations. “This is the most comprehensive standard I have ever worked with,” DOSH Chief Len Welsh said about the ATD standard. Board occupational health representative Dr. Jonathan Frisch, an epidemiologist, called the standard “a remarkable piece of work. This is a groundbreaking regulation in many ways.” After the standards were adopted, the audience applauded, a rarity after a board vote.