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Friday, November 27, 2009

OSHA Sets H1N1 Flu Employer Responsibility Standard for Health Care Workers

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has  issued a compliance directive that clearly establishes a level of employer responsibility to health care workers to prevent the spread of H1N1 flu. The establishment of the standard may allow some injured workers to circumvent "the exclusivity doctrine" in workers' compensation and hold employers responsible in the civil justice system for resultant injury or death should the employer's fail to comply with is directive.

The "exclusivity doctrine" in workers' compensation limits an employers' responsibility to only scheduled workers' compensation benefits for harm caused to workers that "arises out of" and occurs "within the course of employment." Those benefits have become increasingly difficult to obtain for a multitude of reasons.

The OSGA directive closely follows the prevention guidance issue by The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to prevent the spread of H1N1 flu. The purpose of the compliance directive is "to ensure uniform procedures when conducting inspections to identify and minimize or eliminate high to very high risk occupational exposures to the 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus."

The CDC has reported that the H1N1 flu activity continues to be widespread in the US and remains above epidemic in proportion for the seventh consecutive week. Over 99% of all subtyped A viruses being reported to the CDC were 2009 influenza A (H1N1) viruses. A total of 171 deaths in children associated with the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus infection have been reported to the CDC.

OSHA announced, "In response to complaints, OSHA inspectors will ensure that health care employers implement a hierarchy of controls, and encourage vaccination and other work practices recommended by the CDC. Where respirators are required to be used, the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard must be followed, including worker training and fit testing. The directive also applies to institutional settings where some workers may have similar exposures, such as schools and correctional facilities."

"OSHA has a responsibility to ensure that the more than nine million frontline health care workers in the United States are protected to the extent possible against exposure to the virus," said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. "OSHA will ensure health care employers use proper controls to protect all workers, particularly those who are at high or very high risk of exposure."

To read more about workers' compensation and the H1N1 Flu click here.