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Union Survey on Influenza Pandemic Finds Lack of Adequate Health and Safety Measures for Health Care Workers

McEntee praises Obama request for $1.5 billion in additional funding

WASHINGTON, April 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new union survey of more than 100 health care facilities across the country reveals that many are not adequately prepared to protect workers' health and safety during an influenza pandemic. The report, "Healthcare Workers In Peril: Preparing to Protect Worker Health and Safety During Pandemic Influenza," conducted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the AFL-CIO and other unions, concludes that workers face a very high risk of becoming infected when caring for patients with pandemic flu unless adequate health and safety measures are in place in advance of a pandemic.

"Our survey has identified serious deficiencies in the preparedness of health care facilities," said AFSCME International President Gerald W. McEntee. "Unless hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities do a better job of addressing all health and safety areas surveyed, workers will become sick and, as a consequence, be unavailable to care for sick patients."

With no existing comprehensive federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard on airborne diseases designed to protect health care workers, the pandemic flu preparedness survey was conducted to assess the extent of employer efforts in planning adequate safety and health measures.

More than a hundred surveys were collected by six unions in fourteen states. The collected surveys indicate that health care facilities have made some progress in preparing for a flu pandemic, but much more needs to be done. Results show:

  • Only 4 percent of the respondents reported that their facility was "very ready" to respond to a flu pandemic.
  • Less than half the facilities surveyed (43 percent) have provided pandemic flu training to their workers, one of the fundamental elements of protecting workers from occupational hazards.
  • One-third of the facilities have yet to develop a written plan for responding to pandemic flu.
  • Only 54 percent of the facilities have identified health care workers who will be at some risk of occupational exposure to the pandemic flu virus.

"In order to provide care for patients infected with pandemic flu and protect health care worker from exposure, plans for safety and health issues should be made before the flu arrives," McEntee said.

The report recommends that employers prepare now by identifying health care workers who will provide care for infected patients, implement worker training and secure adequate supplies of antiviral drugs and vaccine. A vital aspect of worker protection will be the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) -- the respirators, gowns, gloves, face shields, eye protection and other equipment by health care workers in their patient care responsibilities.

A numbers of government actions are recommended in the report to address the problem of protecting health care workers, including: a mandatory workplace standard issued by OSHA that broadly addresses airborne transmissible disease; a request that Congress identify a mechanism to assure that public health care facilities not cover by the OSHAct -- such as hospitals, nursing home and Veterans Administration hospitals in certain states -- be required to comply with the provisions of an OSHA airborne transmissible disease standard; and a requirement that state and public health departments strengthen the worker health and safety elements of their state pandemic influenza plans.

McEntee praised President Obama's quick response to the current flu outbreak, including the administration's request for $1.5 billion in supplemental funding. "State and local governments are going to need funding to help them deal with this crisis, which comes at a time when health and public safety budgets are already being squeezed," McEntee said.

Unions participating in the survey report include the AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Communications Workers of America (CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United American Nurses (UAN) and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). The full report can be found at AFSCME represents over 60,000 nurses who work in a variety of health care settings across the country.

AFSCME's 1.6 million members provide the vital services that make America happen. With members in hundreds of different occupations - from nurses to corrections officers, child care providers to sanitation workers - AFSCME advocates for fairness in the workplace, excellence in public services and prosperity and opportunity for all working families.

SOURCE American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees
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