News reports over the past week have focused on an outbreak of the Zika virus in Florida: the total number of cases has now reached 21. But that number may be deceptive in that it focuses on “active transmission” cases or those that were contracted locally. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), another 1800+ travel-associated cases have been reported in the U.S.
There are several things that employers need to think about related to the Zika virus:
- Understanding potential employment related risk and liability issues
- Understanding which work populations are at greatest risk
- Being aware of the facts to allay any employee concerns, fears, myths
- Reviewing best practices for this or any potential health-related emergency
This post will offer related tools and resources for employers and employees, a preliminary workplace toolkit.
In thinking about work populations that might be at highest risk, business travelers who travel to affected areas are highest on the list. Other populations with risk of exposure include healthcare workers, laboratory workers and outdoor workers. The U.S. Department of Labor Blog offers advice on How to Protect Workers from Zika Exposure in both English and Spanish.
BLR Safety Advisor says that the first work-related Zika infection was reported to the Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) Health Department in June 2016, the result of a needlestick. They note:
Although Zika is not yet widespread in the United States, potential exposures clearly exist. What’s the risk in your workplace? Obviously, healthcare and laboratory workers are at risk of Zika, but are workers in other industries? And what steps can you take to protect workers against Zika infection?
In their article, Could Zika strike your workplace? Recommendations for employers, they offer advice from the CDPH, federal OSHA, and the CDC, with tips for each of the work populations identified as highest potential risk. Also see the source: OSHA / NIOSH: Interim Guidance for Protecting Workers from Occupational Exposure to Zika Virus. Also see the CDC on Healthcare providers and Schools.
Zika 101 for Employers & Employees (embedded below or available at the link) is a 46-minute webinar is presented by the National Safety Council, the CDC and NIOSH:
For more good advice from employment law, safety and HR experts see:
- The Workplace is Not Immune: Guidance for Employers on the Zika Virus Outbreak
- SHRM: The Zika Virus: What Employers Should Not Do
- Bugged Out: Tips For Keeping Your Employees Safe from Zika
- Could Employers Be Liable for Forcing Workers to Travel to Zika-Afflicted Zones?
At present, the Zika travel warning for Florida is very narrow – a one-square mile block. For workers who travel globally, see the CDC Zika Travel Advisories
The biggest concern is transmission by pregnant women. See NPR: With Zika in Miami, What Should Pregnant Women Across The U.S. Do? and the CDC on Pregnancy & Zika
and information for Parents.
General education and learning resources
- CDC: Everything you need to know about the Zika virus
- World Health Organization: Zika Virus.
- CDC Emergency Preparedness & Response