Standard to Protect Against Infectious Airborne Diseases is First in the Nation


The nation’s first standard to safeguard workers from the spread of airborne diseases has been approved by California’s Office of Administrative Law and filed with the Secretary of State. With full support from labor and management stakeholders, on May 21 the Cal/OSHA Standards Board unanimously approved the Aerosol Transmissible Disease (ATD) standard which is designed to protect workers in healthcare and related industries from the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis, measles, influenza, and other pathogens spread by coughing and sneezing. The standard becomes effective on Aug. 5.

“This first in the nation standard is a milestone in workplace safety,” said Department of Industrial Relations director John C. Duncan. “It is designed to protect employees who are likely to come in contact with transmittable diseases which is especially significant due to recent events such as the H1N1 swine flu outbreak. I applaud the efforts of our Cal/OSHA program for once again being on the leading edge of worker safety.”

The new ATD standard will be added to the California Code of Regulations as Title 8, section 5199, and will cover healthcare and related workplaces that typically treat, diagnose, or house individuals who may be ill such as hospitals, clinics, nursing care facilities, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters.  It will also cover emergency responders, who often are the first point of contact of the healthcare system with patients who can transmit disease. 

Designed to protect workers with duties that increase their risk of exposure to infectious diseases, the ATD standard requires healthcare employees and others at increased risk to develop exposure control procedures and train employees to follow them.  Employees must be made part of the process by involving them in the periodic review and assessment of these procedures.  Basic exposure precautions such as source control, hand hygiene, and cleaning and decontamination procedures are a fundamental part of the standard.

Currently there are no specific requirements outlining the responsibilities for employers to address aerosol transmissible diseases as a workplace safety hazard for their employees.

“The ATD standard provides guidance on how to protect employees from exposure to diseases that are well known, like TB, and those that are novel, like what we have just experienced with the recent appearance of H1N1 flu,” said Cal/OSHA chief Len Welsh.  “This standard provides a set of safety practices and precautions tailored to the level of healthcare-related service provided by the employers covered, so they can respond in an organized and intelligent fashion to situations ranging from day-to-day management of a potentially infectious patient to emergency surges that may be brought on by a pandemic.  The standard is designed not only to protect healthcare workers, but the functionality of the healthcare system itself, since the system cannot run without them. ”

Also accompanying the ATD standard is the Zoonotic Disease standard, which addresses employees working around animals where many infectious diseases originate.  The standard requires employers to control workplace exposures to infectious diseases in animals such as Hantavirus, monkey pox, anthrax, avian influenza, and bovine tuberculosis.

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