Infectious diseases kill more than 71,000 Americans annually, but thanks efforts of the LIUNA Training and Education Fund (LIUNA Training) and the Laborers’ Health & Safety North America (LHSFNA), LIUNA’s diverse membership and the general public will soon see improved protection from these illnesses.
The LHSFNA played a key role in assisting LIUNA Training in securing grant funding for its Ebola and Other Infectious Disease Worker Training Program (EIDWTP). Awarded as part of a three-year, $9 million program created by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal agencies, the grant aims to raise worker awareness about infectious diseases and train responders to protect themselves while minimizing the spread of disease to others during an outbreak. Due to the joint efforts of the LHSFNA and LIUNA Training, more of LIUNA’s half a million members will now get the chance to strengthen their skills and be better prepared for emergency situations involving infectious diseases at top-notch training facilities across the U.S. and Canada.
And while the Ebola threat is largely diminished, other infectious diseases continue to make inroads in the nation’s health. Zika is currently in the headlines, but members and the general public are also at risk for exposure to a growing number of other infectious diseases that seldom make front page news. These include antibiotic-resistant superbugs, blood borne pathogens like Hepatitis B and C and HIV, Lyme disease and West Nile Virus.
Workers on the Front Lines
“When it comes to biological hazards in the workplace, thousands of LIUNA members regularly find themselves on the front lines,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “Long before the 2014 Ebola outbreak that led to the creation of this new training program, the hardworking men and women of LIUNA have built a reputation for stepping up to help in times of need.”
LIUNA’s construction and environmental remediation workers, mail handlers and other public employees, Indian Health services personnel, National Guard responders, health care workers and service contract workers on military bases also routinely confront infectious disease risks during their workdays. This includes containment at hazardous waste sites, sewer repair, storm damage cleanup and sometimes, as with the risk of exposure to Zika, just spending extended time working outdoors.
The NIEHS grant comes at an opportune time for LIUNA members. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately one to three new infectious diseases are identified every year. Others “re-emerge” in populations and regions where they have previously never been seen and cause more illnesses than before. Globalization, increasing drug resistance and climate change are all contributing factors.
Infectious diseases can seriously affect the nation’s health, economy and security. The LHSFNA is proud to coordinate with LIUNA Training to help contain this threat and protect the health of LIUNA members and their families.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]