What You Need to Know About Protecting Your Workplace from Ebola

Executive Summary

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD or Ebola) is a rare and still misunderstood disease that currently has the attention of the world.   The first known outbreaks occurred back in 1976 in central Africa and those outbreaks, while devastating, were contained and isolated events.   We are now seeing the enormity of how infectious and deadly Ebola can be when allowed to remain unchecked.   The disturbing events that have occurred in the western countries of Africa and now in the United States are focusing the media spotlight on Ebola and what we personally and collectively should do to prevent exposure and the spread of the disease.

Regardless of the debate around what the proper response should be to the Ebola virus, the reality is that once contracted it remains an extremely contagious and deadly disease.  So what does this mean for your workplace?  What do you need to do to be prepared if your workplace is exposed?  In this post, we will provide some general information and advice on prevention and control of an infectious disease such as Ebola in the workplace.

What are the symptoms of Ebola? 

The incubation period from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is two to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms. The first symptoms are the sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat and can mimic the flu or Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in most cases, both internal and external bleeding.

How is it transmitted?

Ebola is considered a bloodborne pathogen.  It is spread through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals or humans with the disease.  Humans can continue to spread the disease quickly by human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.  While there is still debate about whether or not the virus can become airborne, the potential for aerosolized transmission of the virus should be considered until ruled out completely.

Can it mutate to become more virulent?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published information about the type of virus and identified it by species.  One of the properties of viruses is their ability to mutate over time while in a host.  While there is little known at this time about the ability of this particular virus to mutate, until there is further research, we should consider all potential probabilities.

Is Ebola something I should be worried about in my workplace?

While this question raises many bioethical and business operational issues, the reality is that the answer is yes; we should be concerned.   Paying attention to an infectious disease is part of our responsibility to control and prevent it from being a disease that instills hysterical reactions, or worse, an uncontrolled exposure to the disease.

While there is a lot of evidence regarding the difficulty in transmission of the disease, we know that once contracted the fatality rate is well over 50%.  Consider what the potential damage to your workplace is when an infectious disease such as a bad cold or the flu hits many of your employees.  The reality is that many come to work and share their virus or miss work, causing a disruption to your business.  The potential for a devastating and lethal disease in the workplace could cause business disruption, leading to operational and financial losses.   We already know that the flu virus can cause or contribute to over 36,000 deaths per year according to the CDC.  With over 16,000,000 Americans catching the flu each year that is less than 1% probability of it being lethal.  With a 50% mortality rate, Ebola will obviously be much more deadly if allowed to remain unchecked.

What can we do to prevent Ebola from causing a major disruption for our workforce?

All companies should develop a plan similar to what would be in place for fire or inclement weather.  As an example, food manufacturers have developed programs that aim to prevent the introduction of bacteria into the food we eat. Similarly, most hospitals have someone that is designated as an infectious disease director with the task of developing and implementing programs to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria.

Our workplaces can benefit from having a similar plan for bloodborne pathogens and infectious diseases.  The development of a written bloodborne and infectious agent program can be very beneficial and when implemented and communicated effectively to employees , can mean the difference between someone becoming ill or remaining healthy.    Here are a few steps that can be implemented to help control the potential spread of an infectious agent (this includes cold and flu viruses) such as Ebola.

  1. Develop a written prevention program.  If you have a blood borne pathogens program, enhance it to include infectious diseases.

  2. Implement a travel program that provides details of what to do to protect employees during and if there is cause for concern, such as overseas travel or illness identified on a plane or area where staff is working.

  3. Provide kits with personal protective equipment for a first response situation.  At a minimum the kit should contain:

  4. Nitrile or vinyl gloves,

  5. N95 filtering face-piece masks,

  6. Sterile dressings,

  7. Bio disposal bags

  8. Disposable clean-up towels

  9. Disposable gown w/full sleeves

  10. Eye shield with ear loop mask

  11. Germicidal (kills germs) wipes

  12. Biohazard scoop

  13. Disposable shoe covers

Remember that having a plan that is understood by your employees guides them in how to react in a positive way in the event of an emergency condition and especially when there is the potential for exposure to an infectious disease. This is the best way to control and prevent the spread of the agent and minimize or eliminate the risk of illness to fellow employees.

How can Nova help?

Nova recognizes the importance of advanced preparation to control and manage risk.  We are all aware that as humans we can fall prey to the many microscopic biological agents that can do us harm.   Viruses that cause lethal or disabling diseases can be controlled and exposure minimized or prevented.

Our professionals have the skills to provide guidance in the development of work-specific and written control plans for infectious diseases.  We work closely with you to create a plan that will focus on the potential risks and how to best manage exposure, limit contact and maintain your workplace with minimal interruption.    We also provide training that is specifically tailored to your workplace and employee base. Contact us to speak with one of our Certified Industrial Hygienists. Our team is knowledgeable and highly qualified in the prevention of workplace health and safety risk.

For Additional information:

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/

https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/ebola/

https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHAFS-3747.pdf

Author:

Gary Ganson

Industrial Hygiene Group Manager

Nova Consulting Group Inc.

(816) 668-3245

gary.ganson@novaconsulting.com

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