August 13, 2015

Healthcare, telecommunications workers learn how to protect themselves against infectious diseases

By Nikki Pollo

The Tony Mazzocchi Center partnership completed a successful training on Ebola and Other Infectious Diseases last month, resulting in the interest for further education for exposed workers.

Ebola and Other Infectious Diseases training - 7/18/2015On July 18, union members from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE-CWA) convened at the UPTE-CWA Local Union 9119 hall in Berkeley, Calif., to participate in a class focused on exposure to these communicable diseases. The group yielded a diverse variation of workers across industries such as telecommunications and healthcare, social working and clinical lab specialists. Representatives from UPTE-CWA Local Union 9119 and CWA Local Unions 9408, 9423, 9410, 9404 and 9415 were present.

“There weren’t any frontline workers in the class such as RNs, but there were certainly a number of other workers just as easily exposed,” Local 9119 Vice President Jamie McDole said, “like clinical lab folks handling blood samples and various other staff at hospitals, social workers, case managers, researchers and animal lab technicians who all deal with infectious diseases.”

McDole took the lead in organization this training, reaching out to nearby local union leadership, stewards and other campus activists.

Joan Lichterman serves as the safety and health director for Local 9119 and also the occupational safety and health trainer for the CWA District 9 public sector. She shared that this training is specifically important to telecommunications workers too, as job tasks consist of servicing hospitals, labs and other areas where disease may be transmitted.

The eight-hour course opened with awareness of infectious diseases and how they are transmitted, but then expanded into workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities, implementing the hierarchy of controls, organizing committees to tackle health and safety issues, and other points of discussion.

“This training was more than an awareness-level course,” Industrial Hygienist Bernie Mizula said. Mizula facilitated this training and as part of the TMC partnership, developed the curriculum. “Protection against infectious disease is best achieved by proper implementation of the hierarchy of controls, beyond awareness and PPE.”

During the training another focus was directed toward laws protecting workers, their understanding of the laws, and how to utilize committees to reach goals set to protect worker safety and health.

“We talked about the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (§3203 under Cal/OSHA) and how members can use it,” Lichterman said.

“It’s interesting because employers have said they don’t want a ‘one size fits all’ program and with this, every employer customizes their own plan that works for them and addresses the issues,” she continued. “This is something that unions can use to make sure it is done properly and organize.”

Before wrapping up the training, CWA Occupational Safety and Health Director Dave LeGrande addressed the class on the importance of organizing to promote and ensure safe and healthy workplaces.

“The training provided a comprehensive coverage of a union approach to identifying and controlling Ebola and other infectious diseases for University of California healthcare and affected telecommunications workers,” LeGrande said.

“Due to this training, participating members and health and safety activists will better be able to ensure their employer is providing safe and healthful working conditions, as well as to spread the word and involve coworkers in the union’s safety and health efforts.”

Efforts to expand this training to other workers in areas where Ebola and infectious diseases are capable of spreading are in progress.

“The medical community and other exposed workers need more help and attention,” Mizula said. “I hope we can develop more robust curriculum in the future.”

Photos courtesy of Joan Lichterman.

This training project is supported by grant number 2 U45 ES06175 from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), NIH.

Posted In: Health and Safety, Mazzocchi, CWA

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