OSHA Infectious Disease Review Supported by Healthcare Leaders

Thirty-one leaders in the healthcare industry have jointly signed a letter regarding ways to better protect healthcare workers and prevent the spread of infectious diseases as part of a request for information by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The healthcare leaders specifically requested that OSHA examine the role of textiles (such as lab coats, uniforms, scrubs, and bed linens) as vectors in the spread of microorganisms. Recent data is emerging on the causal relationship between microbes on healthcare worker uniforms and associated occupational exposure to infectious agents, blood and bodily fluids.

As an example, there are standards for healthcare workers in operating rooms, including requirements to wear fluid barriers from head to toe in order to prevent splashes and splatters. But there is no standard for healthcare worker uniforms outside the operating room, where there are many splashes, splatters and spills.

The healthcare leaders urged OSHA to develop standards for medical textiles to better protect healthcare workers, patients and the community. The medical literature suggests new standards should address three specific performance components for textiles used in highrisk and unpredictable patient care areas:

- Fluid barriers help to reduce bioburden in the healthcare environment

- Broad spectrum antimicrobials to help control microorganisms

- Uniforms and personal protective equipment must be comfortable in order to be worn correctly

The effort is being led by an expert in health policy, David B. Nash, MD, MBA, founding dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "Its well known that healthcare worker uniforms are often contaminated. We wash our hands between patient contacts, but we cant change our clothes," says Nash.

A partial list of healthcare professionals who signed the joint letter include individuals from the University of Virginia Health System, John Hopkins University School of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Mercy Health Partners, Strategic Health Policy International, National Business Coalition on Health, Florida Healthcare Coalition, Healthcare Supply Solutions and Vestagen Technical Textiles.

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