CBP's safety and health program leaves much to be desired

Note: a letter for your doctor is available here, but read on for more information about its purpose and getting CA-2 claims successfully submitted.

Despite knowing that Border Patrol agents are being exposed to infectious diseases across the southwest border on a daily basis, CBP has sat on its hands and offered only one solution to employees who get sick: you should have worn your personal protective equipment (PPE).

That advice, of course, does nothing for someone who has already gotten sick and taken an illness home, potentially exposing their family and others in the community to illnesses that are not typically seen in the United States on a regular basis. The union contacted CBP's Office of Safety and Health (OSH) to find out what the agency expects agents to do after they come down with an infectious disease -- when PPE no longer matters. At the sector level, they say they have not gotten any new guidance from CBP. At CBP OSH, they can't even be bothered to respond to our questions, because they know they don't have any acceptable answers. So the union is left to do what it can to help employees get covered by the Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) for illnesses they believe were contracted at work.

CBP's safety and health program has processes in place to deal with an employee being exposed to tuberculosis (TB) and bloodborne pathogens, but it does not have a plan in place for dealing with other infectious diseases or illnesses, such as measles, mumps, chickenpox, and scabies, among many others. Plans for TB and bloodborne pathogens are included in the agency's 2012 Safety and Health Handbook, HB 5200-08B, but only because OSHA requires those plans to exist. Clearly, CBP will only do the bare minimum, as required by law or regulation, when it comes to looking out for the safety and health of its workforce.

Since CBP refuses to look out for the wellbeing of its front-line employees via its own safety and health program -- after employees have become infected -- they leave it up to employees to attempt to get approval via OWCP, a process which is typically daunting and can be especially difficult to get approval for when dealing with infectious diseases.

We have seen numerous instances of employees being forced to make appointments with their personal physicians to get treatment for all sorts of illnesses. Therefore, the union has generated a letter for employees to take to their personal doctors when they believe they got sick at work due to contact with immigrants who were sick.

If an employee's personal physician believes that the employee did indeed get sick at work due to contact with sick immigrants, the medical report needs to explain, in detail, why the physician believes that to be the case, along with all of the information required by OWCP.

This letter provides the physician with a history of the increase in immigrants coming across the southwest border, explains the illnesses frequently encountered, and explains what information the physician needs to provide in the medical report. Fill out a Form CA-2 and submit it to your supervisor along with your doctor's medical report -- just make sure that the report has all of the required information listed in the letter.

The union usually sees claims filed via a Form CA-2 initially denied because the medical report does not contain the required information. It is our hope that this letter will improve the chances of getting a case approved more quickly.

Agency representatives have stated publicly that employees are being exposed to illnesses at an ever-increasing rate, but they have done nothing about it other than to state that employees should be wearing their PPE. CBP has the ability to cover the treatment and monitoring of infectious diseases and other non-covered illnesses via its existing safety and health program, but until they expand that program to include these other illnesses, employees have no choice but to pay for the medical care on their own or attempt to get the illness covered via OWCP.

In the event that CBP does eventually decide to better look out for the safety and wellbeing of its workforce, we will update this information accordingly. Until then, contact your local union representative if you need help with the OWCP process and we'll do whatever we can to help.

Links:
Form CA-2, Notice of Occupational Diseaseand Claim for Compensation
Background letter for employee's personal physician
Publication CA-810, general OWCP information
Form CA-35, checklists used to gather medical evidence