By Mark A. Lies, II,  Adam R. Young, and Daniel R. Birnbaum

Seyfarth Synopsis:  The flu and cold season is now approaching. Employers face concerns about how to respond to highly infectious diseases when an employee reports such illness. Seasonal illnesses have the potential to infect employees and shut down operations because of employee absence due to illness. Employers must consider methods to keep their employees healthy and productive while not running into legal pitfalls.

With the return to winter weather, the cold and flu season is once again upon us.  This creates challenges for employers. Seasonal illnesses have the potential to spread throughout the workforce, and negatively impact operations.  Companies should create a plan to respond to infectious diseases, including how to limit the spread of the disease within the workplace without violating any applicable laws or regulations.  Employers should also encourage employees to get flu shots and practice good hygiene at work.  Please click on this article for more detailed guidance for employers on dealing with infectious diseases during flu and cold season.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

By Brent I. Clark, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent report indicates that vector-borne diseases are a rising causes of illness for outdoor workers in the United States.  Vital Signs: Trends in Reported Vectorborne Disease Cases — United States and Territories, 2004–2016 (May 4, 2018).  As summer approaches, employers in the construction, landscaping, outdoor hospitality, and other outdoor industries should take steps to inform and protect their workers from vector-borne disease.

In its report, the CDC found that the most common vector-borne pathogens in the United States are transmitted by ticks or mosquitoes, including those causing Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and West Nile, dengue, and Zika virus diseases.  This CDC report examined trends in nationally reportable vector-borne diseases between 2004–2016. We have previously written about Zika, including, Zika – Employer Liability Issues and Zika Virus Spreading to United States: OSHA Provides Recommendations.

Due to the outdoor nature of certain types of work, such as construction, landscaping, and outdoor hospitality work such as at golf courses and pools, employers should be mindful of informing their employees on how to protect themselves from vector-borne diseases, how to recognize the symptoms of vector-borne diseases, and what to do if they believe they have contracted a vectorborne disease.

According to the CDC, the following diseases are currently reported as being transmitted somewhere in the United States, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa:

  • Lyme disease;
  • West Nile, dengue and Zika virus diseases;
  • Plague (Yersinia pestis); and
  • Spotted fever rickettsioses.

CDC notes that malaria and yellow fever are no longer transmitted in the United States but have the potential to be reintroduced.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides limited guidance (Lyme Disease, Zika) for employers in the construction or outdoor-services industries. However, this guidance is generally applicable to help prevent any vector-borne disease:

  • Avoid brushy, overgrown grassy, and wooded habitats;
  • Remove leaves, tall grass, and brush from areas surrounding work areas or residential areas, thereby reducing tick, deer, and rodent habitat;
  • Eliminate 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;
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and tucking pant legs into socks or boots to prevent ticks and mosquitos from reaching the skin;
  • Wear high boots or closed shoes that cover the entire foot;
  • Wear a hat with mosquito netting;
  • Spray insect repellents (containing DEET) on exposed skin, excluding the face. Use permethrin on clothes to kill ticks on contact) (don’t forget hazard communication training);
  • Wear light-colored clothing so that ticks can be more easily seen and removed before attachment occurs;
  • Check the body carefully for ticks or mosquito bites; if ticks are found, promptly removing them with tweezers. (DO NOT use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish, or other products to remove the tick).

According to the CDC, between 2004-2016, a total 642,602 cases of vector-borne diseases were reported.  During this time, tick-borne bacterial and protozoan diseases more than doubled, from over 22,000 in 2004 to over 48,000 in 2016. Lyme disease accounted for 82% of all tick-borne disease reported across the continental United States. Mosquito-transmission in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa accounted for most reports of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika virus diseases, while West Nile virus, transmitted by mosquito, was reported across the continental United States.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the author, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.