CHRISTINE A.D. LORENZO, CIH,
is president of AIHA and safety and occupational
health manager for federal and state operations at OSHA.
She can be reached at email@example.com
or (720) 264-6572
The unprecedented scope and severity of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa produced a humanitarian crisis that, as of early November, authorities were still struggling to contain. The World Health Organization released worrisome information as early as August about the number of healthcare personnel in Africa who were becoming ill, and suggested that tens of thousands of people overall would become infected before the outbreak was under control. Once the virus made it to the U.S., many groups raised concerns about the guidelines for personal protective equipment provided to healthcare workers. As I write this, questions remain about the circumstances surrounding the infection of two Dallas nurses following treatment of a sick patient. Whether the nurses followed PPE protocols, whether the protocols themselves were sufficiently protective—these issues are at the heart of our concerns as IHs, and they illustrate how essential our profession is in times of crisis. TAKING ACTION Many groups representing healthcare workers called for resources and guidelines from federal agencies. AIHA had resources to offer as well. We quickly published an Ebola resources page on our website. Available at http://bit.ly/ebolaresources, the page collects links to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), OSHA, and NIOSH. Also included are several applicable AIHA resources, including The Role of the Industrial Hygienist in a Pandemic, Guideline for the Decontamination of Chemical Protective Clothing and Equipment, the 2nd edition of Chemical Protective Clothing, and the Incident Safety and Health Management Handbook.
In addition, AIHA made available several relevant presentations from a roundtable held at AIHce 2013 in Montreal. These presentations dealt with topics such as the selection of environmental disinfectants, conformity assessment for PPE, and infection control.
On Oct. 15, at the height of concern over Ebola in the U.S., AIHA sent separate letters to OSHA, NIOSH, CDC, and the White House. The letters highlighted the key role IHs can play in such a crisis because of our unique skills and training. They also called for immediate publication of an OSHA infectious disease rule and offered AIHA’s assistance as the crisis evolves. These letters, as well as resulting media coverage featuring AIHA, are available on the Ebola resources page. CREATING CONVERSATION AIHA also sought to give members an opportunity to voice their concerns and share best practices related to the crisis. One idea was to hold a webinar or online “town hall” meeting moderated by AIHA members with experience protecting healthcare workers from exposure to Ebola. This proved difficult to schedule, since these members were already besieged by media requests and were understandably focused on the work at hand.
But in early November, AIHA announced plans for an online “Web chat” titled “Ebola: A Conversation for Industrial Hygienists.” The event was held as this issue of The Synergist went to press, but scheduled participants included Tom Fuller, ScD, CIH, MBA, assistant professor of Safety at Illinois State University. Tom is a member of the AIHA Healthcare Working Group and a founding member of the Pandemic Planning Team. He was expected to discuss PPE selection, administrative and engineering controls, the cleaning of PAPRs and other equipment, and effective communication of Ebola risk. OUR ROLE In our jobs, we deal with both emerging and enduring threats, with new exposures and old hazards. For some threats, such as exposure to nanomaterials, we must contend with a lack of data; for others, such as silica, we have a century’s worth of evidence of harm. Ebola reminds us of a third type of threat, one that can cause panic and destabilize nations. It also highlights what you and I already know, that industrial hygienists provide vital contributions to protecting the health of workers and communities. As Fred Boelter stated in his Smyth Award address at AIHA’s Fall Conference, our contributions constitute “humble, noble, and worthy work.”
And as this new threat evolves, our work is more important than ever. Keep it up.
Ebola: A New Threat
BY CHRISTINE A.D. LORENZO, AIHA PRESIDENT
• The Synergist TOC