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Once again, the workplace is the target for criminal activity that may be another form of terrorism. Several recent confirmed incidents of U.S. Postal Service mail delivered to places of employment and containing anthrax have spurred the Postal Service, the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Commission to issue advisories for how to respond to the threat of contaminated mail. These advisories posted on the Web sites of the USPS, CDC and OSHA provide information on how to identify suspicious letters and packages and how to respond to mail suspected or known to be contaminated. They also provide links to other resources, such as the Federal Emergency Management Administration (http://www.osha.gov/ bioterrorism/pkghandling.html). CHARACTERISTICS OR SIGNS OF SUSPICIOUS MAIL The CDC, USPS and OSHA advisories list characteristics or signs to look for in identifying mail which may be contaminated with biological or chemical agents, or which may be otherwise hazardous. Those characteristics include:
1) no return address; 2) excess postage; 3) misspelled words; 4) sloppy typing or handwriting; 5) wrong or incomplete addressee information; 6) lopsided or uneven envelope or packaging; 7) excessive tape or string; 8) stains or discoloration on envelope or wrapping; 9) an unrecognized or unexpected foreign return address; 10) a strange odor.

SUMMARY OF PREVENTIVE OR RESPONSIVE MEASURES The Centers for Disease Control advise the following steps be taken if a suspicious letter or package is detected prior to being opened:

1) do not shake or empty the contents; 2) place the envelope or package in a plastic bag or some other type of container to prevent leakage, or cover it with anything available, such as clothing, paper, or trash can, and keep it covered; 3) leave the area and close the door or barricade the area to prevent others from entering; 4) wash hands with soap and water to prevent spreading to other places on the body; 5) report to a supervisor or building security and to local police; 6) list all people who may have been exposed to the item and provide the list to those officials for follow up.

If an envelope or package already has been opened and contains powder, or powder spills out:

1) do not clean up the powder, and cover the contents immediately with anything, such as clothing, paper or a trash can; 2) leave the room and close the door or barricade the area to prevent others from entering; 3) wash hands with soap and water and shower with soap and water as soon as possible; 4) report the incident to a supervisor or building security and to local police; 5) remove and store contaminated clothing in a sealed container to be given to emergency officials for follow up; 6) provide a list of all people who may have been exposed to the contaminated item to the law enforcement and emergency medical authorities for follow up and investigation.

The United States Postal Service has similar advice for mail handling procedures. Additionally, the Postal Service advises individuals to take as instructed any medication prescribed by a physician as a result of possible exposure. More information is available from both the CDC and the USPS on their Web sites: www.bt.cdc.gov and www.usps.com, respectively. WHAT EMPLOYERS SHOULD BE DOING NOW While there has not yet been any mandate issued by a court, legislature, or governmental agency requiring employers to institute mail handling procedures, employers across the country are assessing the risk to their employees and developing appropriate responses. Precautions for handling incoming mail may include using protective devices, such as letter openers, latex gloves, or surgical masks, or segregating suspicious items for retrieval by the addressee. Employees who process or handle incoming mail should be advised what to do and whom to contact if they find a suspicious item or are exposed to powdery or other foreign substances contained in a letter or package. Others measures may be needed to protect employees adequately and to provide the information they need to avoid unnecessary panic or overreaction. Edwin G. Foulke, Jr. and Roger S. Kaplan are members of the Jackson Lewisworkplace safety practice group. Mr. Foulke is a partner in the Greenville, S.C., office and may be contacted at (864) 232-7000. Mr. Kaplan, a partner in the Long Island office in New York, may be reached at (516) 364-0404.

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