How to Protect Employees from West Nile Virus in the Workplace

Posted on Monday, May 13, 2019

Mosquitoes are known for spreading illnesses to many people every year. Although diseases such as yellow fever and malaria that were common over one century ago are rare today, Americans must be concerned about contracting mosquito-borne illnesses. Eradication efforts that took place around the 1900s were very successful in ridding the continent of past deadly illnesses. However, there is a newer threat to the human population that is being studied by epidemiologists. This is the West Nile virus, and its effects are potentially fatal. People who contract it may be weakened and hospitalized for weeks. In some cases, victims die from the negative effects of the accompanying encephalitis.

While West Nile virus is a threat to everyone, employers should especially be concerned about protecting their employees. OSHA has been working to communicate with employers about ways to prevent workers from being affected.

The following steps should be taken in every workplace:

Since mosquitoes are not as active when the sun is up, outdoor tasks should not be scheduled before sunrise or after sunset. 

Mosquitoes breed and thrive in stagnant water, so eliminate any standing water. This includes water indoors and outdoors. If any containers are used to catch dripping water, make sure they are emptied and cleaned frequently.

Have the workplace fumigated if mosquitoes are found, and make regular fumigation a habit.

Workers should be provided with mosquito repellent. Since DEET is the most powerful bug spray ingredient used for repelling these pests, it is important to choose a product that includes it.

Leaves, trash and all other debris should be removed from ditches on or near the business property.

If employees must work outdoors, a dress code that minimizes exposed skin should be implemented.

Any items or vehicles that could accumulate water easily should be stored properly in a dry place.

If the property has automatic sprinklers, have them checked regularly to make sure they are spraying efficiently. When water does not come out efficiently, it may pool around the sprinkler, which creates a hard-to-see breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Offer work clothing coated with permethrin to employees. Researchers believe there are no health risks involved with this substance, and it is known for remaining effective throughout several cycles in a washing machine.

If any containers of standing water must be left out, it is helpful to use mosquito dunks in them. These dissolve in water and are not known for harming animals or fish. However, they will kill mosquito larvae.

Employers should also remember to keep material safety data sheets in accessible places. While DEET is acceptable to use everywhere, employers should check their local or state laws regarding the use of any other pesticides. In some states, there are special regulations for using these chemicals. Mosquitoes may only be a seasonal problem in some areas of the country. However, businesses in areas that are prone to mosquitoes during most months of the year should make sure to offer regular re-training of safety rules for employees.
 
In areas where these pests are a seasonal problem, employers should review mosquito protection procedures with employees every spring. As an incentive to make sure the information sticks and is not waved off after training, employers may test employees' individual knowledge and offer rewards for good scores.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in Dulin, Ward & DeWald’s blog is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or legal advice on any subject matter. Before taking any action based on this information, we strongly encourage you to consult competent legal, accounting or other professional advice about your specific situation. Questions on blog posts may be submitted to your DWD representative.

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