Continuing the discussion from my previous posts on the Zika virus, “Will Zika Impact Medical Travel to Latin America?” and “Insurers’ Have Zika on Radar“, Gloria Gonzalez, of Business Insurance.com, has written today that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is aiming to publish interim guidelines on protecting workers from occupation exposure to the virus this spring.
OSHA is the US government’s health and safety watchdog responsible for overseeing workplace accidents and safety.
As I mentioned previously in “Insurers’ Have Zika on Radar”, US insurance companies are monitoring the virus and are educating their members, but have not determined what it will cost the payer community.
OSHA’s involvement signals that the Zika virus is not only a concern in general health care, but for workers’ compensation as well.
In a report this evening on CBS News, there was no evidence that mosquitoes in the US are carrying the virus, but health officials expect that in the Southern US, there will be a spreading of the virus to the domestic mosquito population.
So like the CDC, OSHA is taking the spread of the virus seriously. David Michaels, the assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health, was reported in Gonzalez’ article as saying the following at a meeting of the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health today in Washington:
“Coming soon to a federal office near you is the Zika virus, and we’re quite concerned about it.”
Mr. Michaels also added that “there’s growing concern across the federal government. We’ve heard from a bunch of agencies about the Zika virus. We’re developing interim guidelines for protecting workers for you all to see, both for your workers who go overseas [workers’ comp and medical travel is a stupid and ridiculous idea, and a non-starter, eh, Mr. Wilson?] , but also we’re seeing the first cases in the United States, and we have to be prepared for that as well.”
Mr. Michaels also said that agency officials are reviewing a preliminary draft and soliciting feedback from other federal agencies, but that they hope to publish the guidance this spring.
He mentioned that similar guidance was published last year in response to the Ebola outbreak, with requirements and recommendations for protecting workers whose work activities are conducted in environments known or reasonably suspected to be contaminated with the virus.
In an alert published by Ben Huggett of the law firm, Littler, Mendelson P.C., back in late January, under the OSHA Act, employees may refuse to work only where there is an objectively “reasonable belief that there is imminent death or serious injury”.
An employee refusing to work without an objective belief may result in disciplinary action, but Huggett advised employers to take extreme care to avoid such adverse actions due to a refusal to work caused by concerns about Zika.
What does this mean for workers’comp?
It represents another exposure for loss should a worker contract he virus and pass it on to a pregnant woman, who then delivers a microcephaly baby. Or, the infected individual could pass it on to a sexual partner, or to a mosquito, if they are bitten, further spreading the disease.
But it also give us an opportunity to explore the feasibility of implementing medical travel into workers’ comp, because most assuredly, they would most likely be treated where they were infected, and not back in the US. Having a worker treated in a local hospital, say in Brazil, that also caters to medical travel, would prove that medical care in Latin America is not dangerous or primitive.
Such views of the world of medicine outside our shores are no longer valid, and given the ability of diseases to spread rapidly around the world, such views are outdated, no longer apply in a globalized world. It is essential that governments at all levels, and the business community as well, remove all barriers and obstacles to providing the best medical care available, no matter where that happens to be.
To do otherwise is foolish.