Preventing MRSA Infections on the Job

Americans have become increasingly aware of the “superbug” MRSA (methicillin-resistantstaphylococcus aureus) because of the number of outbreaks that have been reported among school children. However, most people don’t realize that adults are just as susceptible to getting a MRSA infection at work.

To avoid becoming infected, you need to understand what the disease is, and how to prevent it. MRSA is a type of “staph” infection. Staph is a bacterium commonly found on the skin or in the nose of healthy people; however, it can sometimes cause an infection. In fact, staph bacteria are among the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. When these infections are minor, they appear as pustules and boils, and can be easily treated without antibiotics. When the bacteria cause serious infections, such as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections or pneumonia, they need to be treated with antibiotics.

MRSA isresistant to a type of antibiotic called methicillin and is often resistant to other antibiotics, too. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), between 25% and 30% of the population have staph bacteria present on their bodies, but it isn’t causing disease, and about 1% of the population carry MRSA that is not causing an infection.

The most common way a MRSA infection is transmitted is by direct skin-to-skin contact. It also can be contracted by coming into contact with items or surfaces that have been touched by someone carrying the infection. Although a MRSA infection can happen anywhere, these five conditions can facilitate its transmission:

1.   Overcrowding-working in close surroundings in which there are frequent incidents of rubbing against or touching co-workers.

2.   Direct contact-coming into frequent skin-to-skin contact with co-workers.

3.   Compromised skin-having an open cut or abrasion in which the bacteria can settle.

4.   Contaminated surfaces-commonly used surfaces such as a cafeteria table that may have been infected by someone with the disease.

5.   Lack of cleanliness-failure to frequently disinfect commonly used areas in a facility.

You may not be able to control how much contact you have with co-workers, but you can take steps to protect yourself. Here is what NIOSH recommends:

·      Cover your wound.  Keep wounds that are draining or have pus covered with clean, dry bandages. Pus from infected wounds can contain staph and MRSA, so keeping the infection covered also will help prevent the spread to others. Bandages or tape can be discarded with the regular trash.

·      Clean your hands. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after changing a bandage or touching an infected wound.

·      Do not share personal items. Avoid sharing personal items such as uniforms, personal protective equipment, clothing, towels, washcloths or razors that may have had contact with an infected wound or bandage.

·      Clean work clothing properly. Wash soiled uniforms and work clothing with water and laundry detergent. Dry clothes in a hot dryer, rather than by air-drying, to help kill bacteria in the clothes.

·      Clean contaminated equipment and surfaces with detergent-based cleaners or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectants.  This is an effective way to remove MRSA from the environment. Because cleaners and disinfectants can be irritating and exposure has been associated with health problems such as asthma, it is important to read the instruction labels on all cleaners to make sure they are used safely and appropriately. The EPA provides a list of EPA-registered products effective against MRSA, which can be found by logging on to

Help bring MRSA under control in your workplace by following these precautions.

Separate Households: Whose Insurance Covers the Kids’ Accidents?

Michael and Maureen divorced after 18 years of marriage and agreed to joint custody of their three children. Their 11 year-old son Mikey is riding his bike one afternoon with some friends and not paying full attention to the road in front of him. A five year-old child chasing a ball runs into the road and Mikey strikes her with his bike, causing her to fall and break her arm. The child’s furious parents sue both Michael and Maureen for compensation for her injuries and trauma.

Not long after, their 16 year-old son Mark gets his drivers license. One evening while driving home, he swerves to avoid a deer in the road, loses control, and plows into two parked cars. Both cars are relatively new; the repair bills come to thousands of dollars.

Because Michael and Maureen now have separate households, they each have their own auto and homeowner’s insurance policies. Are both parents responsible for the children’s actions? Is only the parent who had custody at the time of the accident responsible? And whose insurance pays for the damages? Will either policy pay? With the increasing prevalence of two-household families and blended families, the question of which parent (and, therefore, which insurance policy) is responsible for a child’s actions has become more common. The answer is not always clear.

A standard homeowner’s policy covers the people named on it (the named insureds); household residents who are either relatives of the named insureds or under age 21 and in the care of a named insured or relative; and full-time college students who are either relatives of the named insureds and under age 24 or others in the care of a household resident and under age 21. A standard auto policy covers the named insureds and “family members” (residents of the household related to the named insureds by blood, marriage, or adoption, including ward or foster children.) Michael and Maureen have joint custody of their children. In which parent’s household are the children residents?

State laws and courts have answered this question in a variety of ways. For example, states such as New York have established “dual residency”; that is, a person can be a legal resident of multiple households at the same time. However, other states such as Montana have laws prohibiting dual residency. Some courts start with the custody awarded in the divorce decree but also consider how the parents are actually handling custody. A New Jersey court found that a child had dual residency, despite the mother having legal custody, because both parents had actual custody at different times. The judge ruled that both parents’ homeowner’s policies applied to the child.

Other states have ruled that no one factor determines residency; a court must look at multiple factors. A Georgia court devised an approach that measures custody time and focuses on whether there is in fact more than one household. New Jersey courts look at both measurable factors and qualitative factors, such as whether people in the household function together as family members.

If Michael and Maureen live in a dual residency state, both their homeowner’s and auto policies may cover the accidents their children have. Policy terms explain how they share loss payments for these incidents. In other states, the solution may be more complicated. A court may weigh several factors and assign residency to only one of the households, requiring one parent’s insurance to pay for the loss. Since the outcome in these situations is uncertain, the best thing for divorced parents to do is to make sure they have plenty of insurance provided by financially strong companies.