WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) urged the Obama Administration to protect transportation workers from threats like Ebola. In a letter to President Obama today, Brown noted that while individuals infected with Ebola have utilized multiple modes of transit, transportation workers have received limited or no training on handling blood-borne pathogens – leaving workers without the resources and knowledge to protect themselves and passengers from threats.
“While our nation’s public health system has been responding rapidly and effectively to cases of Ebola within the U.S., it’s critical that we also consider workers who may be at risk,” Brown said. “Transportation workers are on the front lines of fighting communicable diseases and play a critical role in preventing the spread of them. That’s why workers must be protected and equipped to respond to threats like Ebola.”
Brown’s letter pointed to the incomplete and insufficient standards for dealing with communicable diseases, including transportation companies that prohibit the use of personal protective gear for workers who are serving business and first class passengers. Kits intended to supply this protective gear are not adequately stocked and are insufficient to address a disease as deadly as Ebola.
Additionally, Brown called on the Obama Administration to protect workers who may be required to self-quarantine by implementing policies that do not penalize these workers from losing their jobs or pay.
Full text of the letter is below.
October 31, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
Transportation workers are on the front lines of dealing with communicable diseases and play a critical role in preventing the spread of them. Recent cases of Ebola in the U.S. have demonstrated, however, that our nation does not have the policies or the resources in place to address threats such as Ebola in our transportation system. I urge you to work with all federal transportation and health agencies in collaboration with unions and their employers to develop and implement the necessary, comprehensive guidelines to protect transportation workers and their passengers.
The recent use of multiple modes of transportation by individuals affected with Ebola exposed transportation workers and passengers to risk, but workers were unable to protect themselves fully from infection and unable to reduce passengers’ exposure due to significant weaknesses in existing policies. Across the transportation sector, workers have received very limited or no training on blood-borne pathogens, and practice drills are nonexistent. In addition, communication about the threat has been lacking, leaving workers uninformed of both their risk and appropriate safety procedures.
The communicable disease policies in place are incomplete and include insufficient standards. Some companies prohibit the use of personal protection gear for workers while serving business and first class passengers. Kits intended to supply this protective gear are not adequately stocked and are insufficient to address a disease as deadly as Ebola. And individuals responsible for cleaning lavatories do not have adequate protective equipment or standards for disposal of potentially contaminated waste. These are only some examples of current policies falling short.
Other policies have not been adjusted to encourage exposed individuals to minimize their interaction with others. Ticketing policies do not have contingencies in place to allow passengers who might be infected to travel at a different time without penalty. Attendance requirements do not protect workers who might be required to self-quarantine from losing their jobs or pay, and they do not excuse worker absences with a doctor’s note to allow sick employees to stay home to reduce spread of the disease. There are additional guideline and resource inadequacies that remain unaddressed, and all of them pose potential dangers to transportation workers and passengers in the face of additional Ebola cases or other blood-borne pathogens.
It is urgent that comprehensive and effective policies are developed to address the risks associated with individuals affected with blood-borne pathogens traveling on all modes of transportation. These guidelines must be developed with the input of workers who know firsthand the constraints and realities of their positions. It is crucial that employers, including contractors and subcontractors, are also consulted to ensure workers and passengers throughout the transportation supply chain are informed and trained. Transportation workers are tasked with helping millions of Americans travel safely each day. In these roles, they are on the front lines of public health threats, and it is paramount that they are protected and equipped to respond to these challenges.
United States Senator