(WASHINGTON)—Providing employees with protective gear after an outbreak occurs is too little, too late, American Federation of Government Employees National ICE Council 118 President Pat Remigio said in response to Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel being given protective gear only after being exposed to the H1N1 flu virus.
Council 118 for weeks urged ICE officials to provide its personnel with N-95 masks, in addition to training and information on dealing with the H1N1 virus. ICE on Saturday, June 13 finally did outfit its personnel at the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami with masks—after confirming four cases of the virus at the facility.
“In addition to putting people needlessly at risk, this shows a clear lack of preparedness and virtually no concern for employee safety,” Remigio said. “The H1N1 virus first hit in late March. How could ICE, three months later, still be unequipped to deal with this?
“These agencies just have not been ready. Throughout the Department of Homeland Security, we have seen employees denied the use of protective gear until after they are exposed to the virus,” he added. “There seems to be a policy of not allowing workers to voluntarily wear masks or other such objects, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There is no justification for denying employee safety.”
“A major obstacle seems to be vague policies at the Department of Homeland Security, or perhaps a misread of OSHA guidelines,” AFGE National President John Gage said. “At TSA for example, the agency offered no official guidance to Transportation Security Officers for more than a week after the initial outbreak, and when that guidance was finally issued, TSOs found it to be confusing, illogical, and in conflict with the guidance of both the CDC and DHS Secretary Napolitano.
“In any case, DHS agency responses have ranged from inadequate to completely irresponsible. As the overseer, DHS must step in to ensure its employees are safe on the job,” Gage added.