OSHA’s Fact Sheet providing guidance for protecting workers from occupational exposure to the Zika virus explains that the Zika virus is primarily spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes and that mosquitoes can become infected when they bite infected persons and then spread the Zika virus to other persons they subsequently bite. According to OSHA, current science-based evidence suggests that approximately one out of five infected people develops symptoms of the Zika virus, usually beginning 2-7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. The most common symptoms of the Zika virus infection are fever, rash, joint pain, and red or pink eyes. Other symptoms can include myalgia (muscle pain) and headache. More serous neurological and autoimmune complications are possible but have not been seen in the U.S.
There is no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus and there is no specific treatment for individuals who become infected. Although the Zika virus is generally spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes, exposure to an infected person’s blood or other body fluids (e.g. through sexual transmission) may also result in transmission. Employers should train workers about their risks of exposure to the Zika virus through various modes of transmission.
OSHA points out that employees who work outside may be at the greatest risk of exposure to the Zika virus. Some workers, including those working with insecticides to control mosquitoes and healthcare workers who may be exposed to contaminated blood or other potentially infectious materials from individuals infected with the Zika virus, may require additional protections (e.g., certain types of personal protective equipment, PPE).
OSHA provides the following recommendations to employers who have employees that work outside:
- Check the CDC Zika website to find Zika-affected areas.
- Inform employees about their risks of exposure to Zika virus through mosquito bites and train them how to protect themselves.
- Provide insect repellents and encourage their use.
- Provide employees with, and encourage them to wear, clothing that covers their hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin. Consider providing employees with hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck.
- In warm weather, encourage employees to wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. This type of clothing protects employees against the sun’s harmful rays and provides a barrier to mosquitoes.
- Always provide employees with adequate water, rest and shade, and monitor them 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 employees about the importance of eliminating areas where mosquitos can breed at the worksite.
- If requested by an employee, consider reassigning anyone who indicates she is or may become pregnant, or who is male and has a sexual partner who is or may become pregnant, to indoor tasks to reduce their risk of mosquito bites.
OSHA explains that its guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content, and are intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace. To obtain a copy of the Fact Sheet, go to https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3855.pdf.