DHS Issues 'Interim' Swine Flu Guidelines
Updated 12:31 p.m. ET
The Department of Homeland Security has issued new interim guidelines to employees who may come in contact with travelers who have contracted swine flu, but the union that represents Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Administration employees calls the instructions inadequate and incomplete.
A memo obtained last night by The Washington Post instructs CBP, TSA or Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees who come in contact with people known or suspected to be infected to wear protective masks. Workers should also frequently wash their hands, cover their mouths when they cough and stay home if they feel ill. Pregnant employees and those with asthma, cardiac or kidney disease who cannot wear masks must discuss other potential protective measures with supervisors, according to the memo. (See the full memo below.)
The guidance is described as "an interim measure until the Office of Personnel Management provides comprehensive guidance for all federal employees." OPM distributed recommendations to all federal employees earlier this week instructing them to keep at least six feet from anyone who appears ill.
The updated instructions, while not much different than the OPM guidance, come after DHS officials met earlier this week with the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents all CBP officers and some transportation security officers (TSOs).
In a statement issued late this morning, NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley said the instructions are inadequate and "putting at unnecessary risk the health of these employees, specifically those that are responsible for clearing travelers from Mexico, and those with special conditions such as pregnancy or respiratory ailments."
NTEU notes that their members come in constant physical contact with potentially infected passengers: TSOs have to "wand" passengers at security checkpoints, perform pat-down searches and touch passengers' boarding passes. CBP officers perform similar tasks and also have to check baggage, she said.
"The health of our employees is of utmost importance to us, which is why we issued department-wide guidance," said DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa. "The Department of Homeland Security has not issued an order saying our employees cannot wear masks."
Meetings between the union and DHS are ongoing, according to Kelley.
Homeland Security Interim Guidance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
April 30, 2009
TO: All DHS employees
FROM: Elaine Duke, Under Secretary for Management
RE: Interim Guidance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Because many of our employees work in the field where they may come in contact with people who have contracted the 2009 H1N1 flu virus, this guidance is being released as an interim measure until the Office of Personnel Management provides comprehensive guidance for all federal employees.
This guidance is based on DHS’ work with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This guidance will be augmented as necessary and we will continue to keep employees apprised of any new guidance that may be issued.
For all employees, taking protective measures is critically important, no matter what tasks they are performing.
All employees should:
• Wash hands frequently with soap or sanitizing solutions
• Cover their mouths when they cough
• Stay home from work if feeling ill
In addition, the following employees MUST wear Personal Protective Equipment.
• Employees who work closely with (either in contact with or within 6 feet of) people specifically known or suspected to be infected with the H1N1 virus must wear respiratory protection. For example: CBP, TSA, and ICE employees who are in close proximity to a person who is being held in isolation due to flu-like symptoms must wear a mask.
A mask with an N95 or higher-rated filter is required for these situations.
Employees who have underlying conditions – such as pregnancy, asthma, or cardiac or kidney disease – and cannot wear a mask should consult with their component Safety and Health Officers and Supervisors for alternative risk reduction measures.
Employees may request further information and guidance from DHS Office of Health Affairs and DHS Office of Safety and Environmental Programs.
Further information and protective measures on H1N1 flu can be found at www.cdc.gov.
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