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OSHA Expands Plan to Address Airborne Infectious Disease Hazards

A plan to explore the need for a safety and health standard on airborne infectious disease hazards has been expanded to include diseases transmitted via contact or droplet routes, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced.

In an April 26 live Web chat, OSHA Administrator David Michaels responded to questions about a possible infectious disease standard and several other items on the newly revised regulatory agenda, including a proposal to require employers to implement injury and illness prevention plans.

The OSHA rulemakings are part of a broader Labor Department (DOL) initiative called "plan, prevent, protect," which seeks to protect the interests and rights of U.S. workers on a number of issues ranging from workplace safety and health to fair wages, equal employment opportunity, pension and health benefits. Secretary Hilda L. Solis said the plan would help DOL carry out its mission of protecting 140 million workers in 9 million workplaces nationwide.

OSHA’s plan to address infectious disease hazards will begin with a request for information (RFI) about occupational exposure in health care settings. Currently under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the RFI is expected to be published soon in the Federal Register. Michaels said OSHA had planned to request information only on transmission of airborne infectious diseases, such as pandemic flu and SARS, but changed the name of the agenda entry to reflect its interest in addressing all infectious disease hazards.

Specifically, Michaels said, OSHA wants to know whether current infection control measures are adequate to assure the prevention of occupationally acquired infections among exposed employees. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are intended primarily for patient protection, not for worker protection, the agency noted in a fact sheet.

The OSHA chief declined to say whether a federal standard is likely to be based on a recently implemented airborne infectious disease standard in California. But, he said, OSHA "will be collecting information and public comment, including information about the California standard, to determine the best course of action."

The injury and illness prevention plan proposal will begin with stakeholder meetings scheduled to begin in June. The exact dates of the meetings, which Michaels said would be held in Texas, New Jersey and Washington D.C., will be announced in the Federal Register.

For more on the OSHA regulatory agenda, see the June issue of OSHA Guide for Health Care Facilities. Information also is available online at