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OSHA: Guidelines to protect employees from Biological threat

November 6, 2001
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued recommendations to reduce any risk of anthrax exposure when handling mail. The guidelines are part of an effort to ensure that the American people know that workplaces will remain safe.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao issued Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations to reduce any risk of anthrax exposure when handling mail. The guidelines are part of an effort to ensure that the American people know that workplaces will remain safe.

"The risk of exposure to anthrax in most offices is minute, however a few common sense steps should always be taken," Chao said. "These will help companies and their employees reduce the risk of exposure. Now, more than ever, we must work together to protect the health of our employees."

Chao advised workers to exercise good judgment and caution when handling mail and take the following precautionary measures as outlined by OSHA:

Suspicious Letters: Be on the lookout for suspicious letters and packages, including packages or envelopes of unusual weight or size, packages or envelopes with a handwritten address and/or no return address and packages or envelopes with excessive postage.
Carefully Open Mail: Open packages/envelopes with a minimum amount of movement and always use a letter opener or method that is least likely to disturb the contents.
Do not blow into envelopes.
Do not shake or pour out the contents.
Keep hands away from nose and mouth when opening mail.
Always wash hands after handling mail.

Chao added that if employers or employees choose to use protective equipment such as gloves, it is important they take necessary steps to make sure these items are handled

As facilities throughout the U.S. receive anthrax threat letters whether they're false alarms or contain actual biological agents the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued an official health advisory, which provides procedures for handling such incidents.

1. Do not panic. Anthrax organisms can cause infection in the skin, gastrointestinal system or the lungs. To do so, the organism must be rubbed into abraded skin, swallowed or inhaled as a fine, aerosolized mist. Disease can be prevented after exposure to the anthrax spores by early treatment with the appropriate antibiotics. Anthrax is not spread from one person to another.
2. Identify the suspicious letter or package. Some characteristics of suspicious packages and letters include: Excessive postage; handwritten or poorly typed addresses; incorrect titles; a title, but no name; misspellings; stains, discolorations or odor; no return address; excessive weight; lopsided or uneven envelope; excessive security material such as masking tape, string, etc.; ticking sound; restrictive markings such as "Personal" or "Confidential"; city or state in the postmark that does not match the return address.
3. Get away from the letter or package. Do not shake or empty its contents. Place the letter or package in a plastic bag or other container to prevent the contents from leaking, or cover the envelope or package with some sort of paper or a trashcan. Likewise, if powder from an envelope spills onto a surface, do not try to clean it up. Instead, cover the spilled contents immediately, leave the room, close the door and prevent others from entering. Wash your hands with soap and water.
4. Report the incident to local fire and police-911. Besides reporting the incident to police, notify your building security official or an available supervisor. List all people who were in the room or area when the letter or package was recognized.
5. Remove contaminated clothing. Remove clothing as soon as possible and place it in a plastic bag or some other sealable container. Give the clothing container to emergency responders for proper handling.
6. Shower with soap and water. Do this as quickly as possible. Do not use bleach or other disinfectant on your skin.
7. Beware of room contamination by aerosolization. If warning is given that the air handling system is contaminated or that a biological agent has been released in a public space, turn off HVAC system or local fans or ventilation units in the area and leave the area immediately. Seal off and close the door or section off the area to prevent others from entering. Notify authorities and shut down the air handling system in the building, if possible. List all people who were in the room or area.

The Restoration Environmental Biological Emergency Response Team can be ready on call 24 Hours a day. Seven days a week, at your disposal in case of a Biological attack or Environmental problems at your facilities. Call (800) 894-4924 across Canada/USA.

For more information on the Anthrax threat, visit the following Websites: www.hazardousmaterials.ca; www.environmentalhazards.com; www.toxicmold.ca; www.pcbremoval.com; www.asbestosremoval.ca; or call (800) 894-4924 Canada/USA.

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