Essential workers are working in a biohazard and need proper training
Brennan Grayson | Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center
During the COVID-19 pandemic, all working people performing “essential services” are laboring in and among biohazards that pose a significant public health risk. This includes volunteers at non-profits and other organizations filling important new gaps in the delivery of essential goods and services under the conditions imposed by Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home orders. To stay safe, all these working people need training that is usually required only for hazardous material handlers and people who routinely come in contact with biohazards like infectious diseases.
In March Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health (NIH), strongly recommended that all organizations delivering essential services get safety training to protect their employees. Local trainers are available through the NIH’s program for workers exposed to infectious diseases and biohazards, a program run through the National Institute for Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), and another program that funds non-profit training centers.
Make no mistake, the list should be longer and public health funding for worker safety has been lagging behind the need for decades. But now more than ever, the training available through these programs is crucial for anyone working or volunteering in essential services.
In the Midwest region the federal training program is coordinated by the Midwest Consortium for Hazardous Waste Worker Training at the University of Cincinnati and its College of Medicine. Trainers through this program are working hard to provide vital safety and health training to the community – from frontline health and emergency responders to community members leading the response at the local level.
In Ohio, my organization, the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center (CIWC) is a local 501(c)(3) and a member of the Midwest Consortium. The CIWC has been designated as a lead trainer for COVID-19. CIWC is a vital training center capable of leading a large scale worker and volunteer training program.
Key resources for workers, employers, and volunteers can be found here.
Training materials include the following topics: COVID-19 and infectious disease awareness, hazard identification and protective measures including engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices such as social distancing, hygiene and infection control, and proper use of personal protective equipment.
Right now, CIWC can help Ohio and Midwestern non-profits and government-run initiatives review these resources and develop work plans for implementing them in unique settings.
We especially want to reach non-unionized workers and volunteers who work in emerging government-run and non-profit led food service delivery systems. Around the country the demand on food pantries is growing exponentially.
The Cincinnati Public Schools are running a program to deliver meals to youth under the age of 18 at 24 sites around the city. Unfortunately, adults can’t eat this food. In response, CPS and a whole hive of community groups assembled an ad hoc food delivery network to distribute food from food banks that can be shared with the entire family at these same 24 sites. At the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center we are now ordering, packing, and delivering groceries for 120 families to Rothenberg Elementary, the CPS school nearest to the CIWC.
Because CIWC is an NIEHS training leader on biohazards and infectious disease, we have developed a safe food distribution protocol. It is challenging to follow. But if the food cannot be delivered safely, then it should not be delivered.
We are especially concerned with food delivery operations that may not have access to traditional biohazard and infectious disease training materials and consultants. CIWC has a sample food distribution protocol to share and other industry specific protocols on our Safety Now for All website.
Right now, employers and volunteer coordinators in the region need to be informed that they must take active steps to be fully aware of the biohazard and food safety implications of their ongoing efforts. People across the region can contact the “Work Safe” hotline of the CIWC at 513-621-5991 to ask questions and request trainings. Organizations, employers and individual workers can contact program coordinator Magda Orlander at firstname.lastname@example.org. CIWC can work with you to adapt our material according to your needs, including developing Spanish and French language trainings and materials. CIWC can host online events and help members find the resources in their region or trade.
Together we can flatten the curve and protect those in our community who are most vulnerable.