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Zika Virus: Steps to Protect Outdoor Workers

Julie Copeland

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CEO


The Zika virus has arrived in the United States with 14,059 reported cases in US territories. There have been 2,686 travel acquired cases in US States and the virus has been locally acquired by thirty-five people in the US. Individuals in the southern Florida region are cautioned to avoid mosquito bites and workers stationed in areas that are swamp-like in the Southeast region of the United States should be especially cautious.

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Current science-based evidence suggests that approximately one out of five infected people develops symptoms of Zika virus, usually beginning 2-7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain, and red or pink eyes. Other symptoms include myalgia (muscle pain) and headache. These symptoms are similar to those of dengue fever or chikungunya. Neurological and autoimmune complications are infrequent but have been described in outbreaks in Polynesia and, more recently, Brazil.

During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be detected in the blood and is capable of being spread from an infected person to a mosquito that feeds on that person. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites. Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus and has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant. The CDC recommends special precautions for women who are or may become pregnant.

Due to the nature of their jobs, outdoor workers may be at the greatest risk of exposure to Zika virus.  Specifically, those working with insecticides and healthcare workers exposed to contaminated blood or other potentially infectious materials are at the highest risk for infection. These workers may require additional personal protective equipment, and should be made aware of the steps necessary to protect against blood borne pathogens.

Workers should be notified about their risks of exposure to the Zika virus and employers should provide ways for employees to protect themselves. Employers should also provide information about the Zika virus, including modes of transmission and possible links to birth defects.

Recommended employer actions:

  • Inform workers about their risks of exposure to Zika virus through mosquito bites and train them how to protect themselves. Check the CDC Zika website to find Zika-affected areas.
  • Provide insect repellents and encourage their use.
  • Provide workers with, and encourage them to wear, clothing that covers hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin. Consider providing workers with hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck.
  • In warm weather, encourage workers to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. This type of clothing protects workers against the sun's harmful rays and provides a barrier to mosquitoes. Always provide workers with adequate water, rest, and shade, and monitor workers for signs and symptoms of heat illness.
  • Get rid of sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) whenever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas. Train workers about the importance of eliminating areas where mosquitos can breed at the worksite.
  • If requested, consider reassigning anyone who indicates she is or may become pregnant, to indoor tasks to reduce their risk of mosquito bites.

Recommended employee actions:

  • Use insect repellents according to directions.
  • Wear clothing that covers hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin. Wear hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck. Wear socks that cover the ankles and lower legs.
  • In warm weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. This type of clothing protects against the sun's harmful rays and provides a barrier to mosquitoes. Drink plenty of water, take rest breaks in shaded areas, and watch for signs and symptoms of heat illness, including in coworkers.
  • Get rid of sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) whenever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas.
  • Talk to your supervisor(s) about any outdoor work assignment(s) if you are or may become pregnant. Such workers should be familiar with CDC information on Zika virus and pregnancy.
  • If symptoms develop, seek medical attention promptly. Discuss any possible exposure to mosquitoes or infections spread by mosquitoes with a healthcare provider.

The Zika virus poses a real threat to the health and safety of those infected. With outdoor workers at a higher risk of exposure, employers need to take the necessary steps to protect employees. Educating employees, providing the proper protective equipment, getting rid of free standing water sources and using insect repellent are a few of the steps employers and employees can take to protect themselves.

For strategies on how to protect employees from additional injuries and incidents, register for our free event on Friday, October 7. The event will feature prominent speakers who will discuss trends in the safety industry, OSHA compliance and ways to limit exposure to workers' compensation claims, along with a preview of safety products and a gourmet lunch.
 

Have a Safe Day!

Topics: CDC, physical health, safety, heat stress, keep your employees safe, safety tips

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