A communicable disease is an infectious disease transmissible by direct contact with an affected individual or the individual’s discharges. As an employer, you should have a general understanding of these types of illnesses because they not only affect your employees, but also can have a major effect on your community as a whole. Communicable diseases are also a hot topic right now due to recent outbreaks of Measles and Hepatitis A in the United States and with flu season right around the corner.
Measles is a viral disease with fever and red rash among the most common symptoms. Some other symptoms of Measles include dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes and tiny, white spots with bluish-centers inside the mouth. Measles can be transmitted several different ways – through coughing, sneezing, talking and when infected droplets make their way onto surfaces, which can remain active and contagious for hours. This disease is highly infectious and, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between January 1st and September 19th of 2019 there have been 1,241 individual reported cases in the U.S. This is the highest number of cases reported since 1992.
Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that attacks the liver. Like Measles, Hepatitis A is a vaccine-preventable disease. Symptoms of Hepatitis A include pain in the right side of the abdomen, fever, jaundice, digestion disorders, dark urine, feeling weak, vomiting and nausea. This disease is transmitted from person-to-person contact via the fecal-oral route. This means ingesting something that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. There were an estimated 6,700 cases of Hepatitis A in the U.S. in 2017 and incident rates have increased by 140% from 2011 to 2017, according to the CDC.
Influenza, or the flu, is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system- nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms of influenza are fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, aching muscles, chills, sweats, headache, dry cough, fatigue, nasal congestion and sore throat. The flu can be transmitted when the infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or touches the mouth, eyes or nose. Although the flu may not seem as dangerous as some of the other communicable diseases, it led to 959,000 hospitalizations and over 79,000 deaths from 2017 to 2018.
As an employer, it is your duty, under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to provide a safe and healthful working environment for your employees- this includes protecting employees from communicable diseases like Measles, Hepatitis A and Influenza. Whether you run a restaurant or a medical office, you must follow standard precautions to keep your workplace safe. This means implementing policies and procedures that ensure workers are maintaining a standard level of hygiene in order to eliminate the risk of disease transmission. Standard precautions include hand hygiene (requiring employees to wash hands after using the bathroom and making hand sanitizer available), respiratory hygiene (providing tissue that employees may use to cover the mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze) and ensuring regular cleaning and disinfection of bathrooms and work areas.
There are some industries whose workers are at a greater risk of contracting communicable disease like healthcare workers, maintenance and waste workers, emergency response personnel and even tattoo artists and body piercers. Workers in these high-risk industries require additional protections in order to do their jobs safely, particularly medical and dental offices. They are required under OSHA to go the extra mile to ensure their employees are working in a safe and healthful environment. One of those requirements is having a Written Exposure Control Plan, which is a living document and source of information for answering blood borne-pathogen questions. This plan is intended to protect your workers from exposures to blood and other bodily fluids. Within the Written Exposure Control Plan, Universal Precautions – the practice of avoiding contact with patients’ bodily fluids by means of wearing gloves, goggles, masks, etc.- should be outlined.
Engineering controls, like retractable needles that reduce the risk of needle stick injuries, and work practice controls should also be outlined in your Exposure Control Plan. Keeping your workplace protected from communicable diseases is not only the right thing to do but, in many cases, is required under law. Having a communicable disease policy, sick leave policy, educating workers and providing them with resources like access to vaccination are just some of the things that you can do to protect your workforce and your community.
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