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OSHA rules designed to protect health care workers from Ebola

While the Ebola virus has had the attention of some for several months, its arrival in the United States has brought it to the attention of many for whom the virus was once unknown. It has also placed health care workers in a position to care for those who are diagnosed with it. As readers are likely aware, two nurses who cared for the first person to be diagnosed with the virus in the U.S., were diagnosed with the Ebola several days after that patient died. While both nurses are now said to be free of the virus, they have spent time away from work recovering from the illness and it is unclear when they will return to their jobs.

As is the case with many types of occupations, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration has created rules designed to keep health care workers from becoming sick from viruses such as Ebola. Among other things the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard which was introduced in 1986, requires that hospitals not only provide, but also require nurses and doctors use protective equipment that keeps potentially infectious materials from coming into contact with workers:

  • Mucous membranes.
  • Face.
  • Skin.
  • Clothes.

Though reports indicate that there were "numerous alleged breaches of protocol" in the course of the treatment of the deceased man, specifics are not clear. If however, it is determined that health care workers were not provided the protective equipment required under OSHA's rule, the hospital could face consequences.

During their time away from work it is possible that the nurses could seek workers' compensation benefits. In addition to being available to workers who are injured on the job, it is also available to those who become ill as a result of their job requirements. Whether they sought, or will seek, such benefits, is unclear.

Source: Mother Jones, "These Rules Can Protect Doctors and Nurses From Ebola–If They're Followed," Gabrielle Canon, Oct. 24, 2014

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