February 6, 2020 / Mark Ames

Combating the Coronavirus with Industrial Hygiene

Controlling the spread of a pandemic requires fast action. Enter, industrial hygiene.

The novel coronavirus has already taken at least 492 lives and infected more than 24,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. Last week, the first case of person-to-person transmission was confirmed, and WHO declared the virus “a public health emergency of international concern.” The situation is serious, and everyone’s help is needed to control the spread of this new threat. Some of those with the greatest ability to help are industrial hygienists.

Industrial hygienists play some of the most crucial roles on the front lines of infectious disease control, helping out in at least seven ways:

  • selecting appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • providing just-in-time training on proper PPE donning and doffing techniques
  • determining whether certain types of PPE and other equipment should be discarded or if it can be reused after proper cleaning
  • selecting and providing training on the use of decontamination chemicals and techniques
  • managing waste that is known or is suspected to contain an infectious substance
  • helping employers, workers, the media, policymakers, and the public understand risks
  • creating or revisiting plans to manage the fatigue of healthcare workers who may be working long hours

For additional insights into the role of IH in controlling the spread of highly hazardous infectious diseases, please see this Synergist article by Aurora Le and Shawn Gibbs. Also, please read the Appeal for Altruistic and Humanitarian Donations (PDF) from Laurence Svirchev, CIH, MA, BSc, who serves as ambassador to China for AIHA’s International Affairs Committee.

It may be a long time before the coronavirus is contained and the threat passed. Until then, constant vigilance is required. OSHA and CDC have a library of resources useful for workers, employers, the media, and others, including steps to prevent exposure, guidelines for healthcare workers, videos, resources for travelers, and more.

Fortunately, while the coronavirus pandemic is new, the world has dealt with many similar outbreaks, including SARS and MERS. Infection control professionals and governments are taking action and coordinating with stakeholder groups, including AIHA. The landscape is rapidly changing, and progress is continually being made. For the latest information, please visit the CDC and OSHA websites.

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of Government Relations.


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