Initially, there were four people in a northern Miami neighborhood who were identified as having contracted the virus after being bitten by local mosquitoes. That number has since (as of this writing) growing to 14, prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to issue an unprecedented warning advising pregnant women to avoid travel to that area.
While there have been no reports of the virus in the Carolinas, it’s not a stretch to say the virus will most likely make it this way at some point. The fact that the virus has spread to the continental U.S. isn’t shocking. In fact, it was widely-anticipated. Still, it creates great concern when we know the virus has proven to cause fetuses to suffer severe birth defects when a pregnant woman is bitten by a mosquito carrying infected blood.
Before this report, the greatest concern for Americans was contracting the virus while visiting areas where it was known to proliferate (i.e., the Caribbean, South America, etc.). Up until recently, the only Americans who had contracted the virus had either traveled to these locations or had sexual relations with someone who had.
Now, the concern is very different – and employers need to take note. This is especially true for companies whose workers are required to toil outdoors. While not all bug bites are going to be considered “work-related,” severe illnesses that are incurred while one is acting in the course and scope of employment may be compensable through workers’ compensation.
In most cases in which an adult acquires the virus, the effect is only going to be a mild fever and other symptoms. However, it can have devastating consequences for infants if their mother contracts the virus shortly before or during pregnancy. At this time, there isn’t any available treatment or vaccine for the virus.
It’s not clear at this juncture whether the risk of exposure to the virus is going to trigger some specific regulations from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) or if the legal duty of an employer will extend to the well-being of an employee’s unborn fetus. But in the meantime, employers can begin doing as much as they can to limit the risk.
Some good starting points include:
- Educating workers on the Zika virus, ways in which mosquito-borne illnesses are spread and how best to prevent them. This includes directives to avoid strong perfumes and colognes that may attract insects.
- Providing insect repellent. Those who work outside are especially at risk, and these workers should have easy access to bug spray. Employers might also consider hiring a pest control company to spray the property and instruct workers on how to spray the repellent on their clothing.
- Getting rid of all stagnant water from outside your facility. Any containers that accumulate water should be removed from the work site as mosquitoes breed and gather in standing water.
- Make sure all employees have proper clothing. Outdoor workers should have light-colored, long-sleeve shirts and pants.
- If at all possible, workers should be moved inside. Work to adjust outdoor hours to avoid dusk and dawn.
If you have suffered an on-the-job illness in South Carolina, we can help.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Bugged Out: Tips For Keeping Your Employees Safe from Zika, Aug. 1, 2016, By Travis Vance, EHSToday.com
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Charlotte Workers Injured in Trucking Company Blast, July 27, 2016, Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog