Ebola Concerns in the Workplace
- October 17, 2018
- Posted by: thinkjcw
- Category: Safety Articles
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers Ebola virus disease (EVD) a
severe illness in humans, and reports an average 50% fatality rate in infected
populations. Ebola is transmitted ONLY through direct contact with the blood or
bodily fluids of an infected, symptomatic person, or through contact with objects
such as needles, bedding, and discarded clothing that have been contaminated with
infected secretions. The virus is NOT airborne nor is it spread through food or
water. Ebola’s rapid onset and high mortality levels are alarming, but other
diseases, such as influenza, occur much more frequently and with greater impact
When travelling to high-risk areas cannot be postponed, employees should be
trained about the risks of exposure to, and the protocols for reducing the incidence
of, infection. In addition to ensuring vaccinations are up-to-date before departing,
travelers should be advised to assemble a health kit containing basic first-aid and
medical supplies. Travelers should also review their health plans for medical
evacuation coverage, and identify health care resources available in their
destination country prior to departure. After returning home, travelers should
carefully monitor their health and report their recent travel and any symptoms to
their healthcare provider. Employers should also encourage workers to stay home
if they are sick so that they will not infect others.
An employer may require workers who are at a higher risk for Ebola, or who may
exhibit symptoms, to obtain medical certification before returning to work in order
to ensure the safety of other employees in the workplace. Wage and hour laws may
present challenges for employers who prohibit employees from returning to work
after traveling to Ebola-affected areas – particularly in cases where workers are
being asked to stay home. Should employers encounter a situation that demands
immediate action, workers should be given time off with pay if they are required to
stay home due to Ebola concerns. Above all, the employer should fully document
the basis for its decisions and use reasonable care to ensure that workers are treated
fairly and that their privacy rights are respected.
Although Ebola is not likely to become a pandemic, to prevent ebola are some
useful tips include: Promote the practice of careful hygiene; encourage healthy
employees to come to work and ill employees to stay home. Minimize disruptions
by identifying critical processes and functions that must continue for the business
to remain viable, ensuring redundancy in key roles. Determine minimum staffing
levels needed to sustain operations. Consider stockpiling inventories in case
supply chains are interrupted. Evaluate critical suppliers and customers, and
develop operational contingency plans should they become unavailable. Allow
employees to telecommute if their jobs permit it, or stagger work hours in order to
limit the spread of disease. Develop strategies for communicating with employees,
customers, consumers, and the media. Review sick and disability leave protocols,
as well as any government-mandated leave policies. Consider travel restrictions for
employees to high-risk areas, and ensure evacuation plans are in place for those
employees who must travel to these zones. Should an employee or visitor become
ill while on premises, Make sure they receive prompt medical attention. Cleaning
staff should use EPA suggested disinfectants and cleaning methods.
Given the CDC’s travel advisory, businesses should seriously consider postponing
business related travel to the areas of West Africa where the Ebola outbreak is
occurring. That being said, exposure to Ebola in the general business environment
should be less than that in the healthcare industry. But in any case, adequate
precautions/preparations should be taken to minimize exposure:
• Employees traveling to Western Africa should consult with their physician
regarding appropriate vaccinations and other inoculations before the trip.
• If travel to affected areas is necessary, the WHO and CDC suggest:
• Individuals planning to work/meet in a healthcare setting should carefully
follow standard precautions and infection control.
• Travelers should avoid contact with animals (alive or dead) and assure that
any milk consumed is pasteurized and meat is cooked thoroughly. Also,
facilities that prepare meats (such as slaughter houses) should be avoided.
• Avoid close, unprotected contact with sick people.
• Ensure good personal hygiene (particularly thorough hand washing).
• Some countries in West Africa have instituted screening protocols at airports
and border crossings to identify individuals with high fever and other illness.
Upon return, employees or visitors who have traveled to the West Africa should
monitor themselves for symptoms for 21 days. If these employees or visitors
develop symptoms, they should stay home from work and seek medical attention
immediately. They should provide the healthcare facility with advance notice of
the potential of Ebola exposure so that isolation precautions can be taken upon
arrival. Individuals (e.g., passengers or crew members) who have been exposed to
Ebola should not travel on commercial airplanes until they have been monitored
for symptoms for 21 days and cleared by a physician.
If employees traveling in Western Africa note symptoms, they should seek medical
care locally before returning home. This helps minimize the chances of disease
spread during passage. If possible, they should visit healthcare facilities with a
good track record of infection control/treatment. Travel protection services, if
engaged prior to departure, may assist in identifying appropriate medical providers
and in providing other support to the traveler.
Based on CDC guidance, crew members on a flight where a passenger or colleague
becomes ill with fever, jaundice or bleeding should separate the sick person as
much as possible from others; provide a surgical mask to prevent droplet spread;
and use impermeable gloves during direct contact with blood, bodily fluids or
items contaminated with blood (e.g., syringes). Crew members should practice
good personal hygiene (particularly hand washing).