Press Statement: Workers need training to stay safe from infectious diseases

October 16, 2014

Press Statement

Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, MassCOSH Executive Director
cell (617)-642-1878
Patricia Strizak, MassCOSH Health and Safety Trainer
cell (516) 509-3602
10/16/2014   BOSTON – With the recent Ebola infection of two nurses in Texas, it is alarming that the Massachusetts Legislature's public health committee failed to invite the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), which represents nearly 23,000 nurses to testify at today’s committee’s oversight hearing. Equally concerning is that the committee failed to seek representatives of other workers to speak, such as emergency first responders, custodians, and even airport workers, all of whom will play an important role in containing the spread of Ebola and need to be kept safe on the job, said the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOSH) in a statement today.

“Workers from police officers, to custodians, and even teachers are currently not properly trained on how to deal with symptomatic individuals, soiled materials, or how to keep themselves from becoming infected,” said MassCOSH Health and Safety Trainer Patricia Strizak, RN, MPH. “These workers and others without a union to fight for their concerns need to be given access to certified trainers who can teach them how to keep themselves safe from infectious diseases.”

Strizak noted organizations such as The New England Consortium (TNEC) are currently offering critical, certified assistance to all workers so they can build the capacity to stay safe on the job.  

“These trainings would also help workers deal with other pandemic diseases, such as the flu, which we have far more cases of,” said  Strizak, who is herself certified by the national Center for Domestic Preparedness as a hospital emergency response trainer as well as a Hazardous Materials Management (HAZMAT) trainer.

“It is essential that policy makers hear from healthcare professionals and other impacted workers to fully understand issues which may impede the effective implementation of protocols meant to keep themselves and the public safe,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb. “Only by having these voices at the table can we prevent the kinds of exposures which occurred in Dallas or may have happened on the flight the symptomatic nurse took hours before her isolation.”

Goldstein-Gelb notes that we are asking much from our low-wage workers to keep us safe while putting their own health on the line. She notes that low wage airplane cleaning crews are responsible for cleaning planes and waiting areas, regularly encountering vomit and other bodily fluids which can transmit disease. With air travel regulations now changing regularity to prevent the spread of disease, she stresses the need to ensure those workers’ concerns are heard and that they are protected and adequately trained on the job.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association has developed guidelines for screening and managing a suspected Ebola patient that can be found here. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health has released their own factsheets for airport workers (here) and all other workers (here).

About MassCOSH
MassCOSH strives to ensure that all workers earn their living and return home alive and well. MassCOSH unites workers, unions and community groups with environmental and health activists, to end dangerous work conditions, to organize for safe, secure jobs, and to advocate for healthy communities. Through training, technical assistance and building community/labor alliances, MassCOSH mobilizes its members and develops leaders in the movement to end unsafe work conditions.