Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Bloodborne Disease Rule Proposed

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Bloodborne Disease Rule Proposed

Article excerpt

Bloodborne disease rule proposed:

A draft proposal to protect some 5.3 million health care workers at 620,000 worksites from infectious bloodborne diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis B was announced January 9 by outgoing Labor Secretary Ann McLaughlin.

The draft proposal calls for employers to identify workers who are at risk of exposure and develop a safety program based on "universal precautions," i.e. all blood and body fluids are handled as if they are known to be infected. The performance-based standard would require the use of safety equipment such as masks and gowns and puncture-proof containers for sharps, worker training and

education, and housekeeping. The standard would require that employers offer the hepatitis B vaccine to workers who are exposed to blood and other body fluids more than once per month on average.

McLaughlin noted that some 12,000 health care workers are infected with hepatitis B each year, leading to approximately 200 deaths annually. While AIDS is less contagious, McLaughlin pointed out, up to 1.5 million people are infected with the AIDS virus and will require medical treatment for it and other conditions. The occupational health risk is "expected to grow," she said, making it "all the more vital that we reassure those on the front lines."

At presstime, the draft proposal was at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. OSHA officials said they expected to issue a proposed standard by mid-March and to have a final standard issued in approximately a year. They said the agency will hold public hearings on the proposal, but no schedule was announced.

Calling the draft a "good proposal," Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, criticized OSHA for moving too slowly on the standard. "Almost two and a half years have gone by since comments" on the ANPR were due, McEntee complained. He added that OSHA should begin rulemaking for other infectious diseases and should amend the hazard communication standard to include communicable diseases.

Tougher criminal penalties proposed:

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Ca.) is expected to introduce legislation intended to stiffen criminal penalties under the OSH Act.

Stuart Weisberg, staff director of the House Subcommittee on Employment and Housing, which Lantos chairs, said the bill is the result of OSHA oversight hearings held last spring and subsequent recommendations listed in "Getting Away with Murder in the Workplace," a report issued by the House Committee on Government Operations. The report's overall message, Weisberg said, was that "the current law simply does not deter employers from willful safety violations, and one of the recommendations [of the report] was to increase the penalties under the OSH Act." According to Weisberg, the report was favorably received within the Justice Department, "and they said they would support increasing penalties."

Legislative counsel for Lantos was still drafting the legislation at presstime, and Weisberg would not comment on its specific provisions. The bill should be introduced by early March, he said.

A spokesman for Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Oh.) said that Metzenbaum was considering introducing a companion bill in the Senate to follow the proposal in the House. …

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