On May 21, the California OSHA Standards Board adopted, by a unanimous 6 to 0 vote, the first U.S. workplace standard designed to protect workers from aerosol (airborne and droplet) transmitted diseases.

All persons commenting on the proposal before the vote spoke in favor, including persons representing the California Hospital Association, State Health Department and many labor unions. Many also praised the advisory committee process and the work of the CalOSHA staff.

The Cal OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard (ATD) was developed over the past five years to address the risks to health care workers and workers in other high-risk environments due to exposure to aerosol transmissible pathogens, such as the agents which cause tuberculosis (TB), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), pertussis and measles.

It also covers new diseases, including pandemic influenza and many speaking at the board meeting cited problems around protecting healthcare workers in the current H1N1 outbreak as a reason for adopting this standard.

The ATD establishes minimum requirements for controlling employee exposure to infectious aerosols. Employers included within the scope of the standard are required to develop control measures that would reduce the risk of infection for employees, based on the nature of the exposure and the type of work setting.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Division) developed this proposal with the assistance of an advisory committee in order to ensure that the proposal provided sufficient protection for employees in these work settings and provided employers with sufficient flexibility to address these risks in the least burdensome manner.

There is no existing federal OSHA standard that specifically and comprehensively addresses occupational exposure to aerosol transmissible diseases. Currently, many state and local health departments are advising healthcare employers to ignore OSHA and CDC guidance for protecting healthcare workers exposed to H1N1 (for example, using surgical masks instead of N95 respirators). The CDC recently reported that at least 80 healthcare workers in the U.S. have become ill from H1N1 flu.