Airport workers are among Americans considered the most vulnerable to contracting the blood-borne Ebola virus, but less than a third of them are getting the protection that federal health officials have recommended, according to a survey commissioned by the Service Employees International Union.
Employees at the five airports where all West African visitors must land are no more likely than those at less risky airports to have received information about Ebola or training called for by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the survey found. Further, less than half of the employees surveyed reported that their employers had fulfilled their responsibility to keep workplaces safe by giving them information about Ebola, it found.
The survey did not categorize workers who clean commercial aircraft separately, though they likely face the greatest jeopardy, especially when they clean bathrooms where a sick passenger may have vomited or left behind other body fluids. However, the survey of 1,150 airport workers from airports nationwide found that while 29 percent of those questioned had received Ebola training, the figure rose only modestly to 40 percent for airport janitorial workers.
Asmare Meshesha, a cabin cleaner for AirServ at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, was quoted by the surveyors as saying that he has received no special training and still lacks equipment, despite the Ebola threat. While he and fellow employees were handed two pages about Ebola in English, he said, many of his co-workers can’t read English well.
“We are as vulnerable to blood-borne illness as when my co-workers and I first complained to our managers more than a year ago,” Meshesha said.
Mark Catlin, the Service Employees’ health and safety, told McClatchy last month that major airlines have outsourced aircraft cleaning jobs to a large number of contractors and that many smaller firms were not ensuring that workers were trained in how to use protective equipment.
After two nurses treating a patient with Ebola in Dallas contracted the disease, the CDC changed its guidelines to emphasize that it’s critical to train workers in how to remove breathing devices, gowns and other personal equipment.
Catlin said that some workers had been “handed summary sheets of the CDC guidance and told to sign them as evidence they’ve been trained.”