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Swine Flu and Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace - Part I

Cross posted from http://safetyphoenix.blogspot.com

With the spread of Swine Flu, a workplace must think of keeping the workplace as safe as possible, both for the employees health and to maintain the day-to-day viability of the business.

Note: As of this writing, the World Health Organization has not labeled the Swine Flue as a pandemic. However, this is the time to make sure your business continuity plan is up to date to include the possibility of a pandemic.

In a pandemic, high rates of illness and worker absence are expected. Past pandemics have spread globally in two and sometimes three waves. Not all parts of the world or of a single country are expected to be severely affected at the same time. Social and economic disruptions could be temporary, but may be amplified in today’s closely interrelated and interdependent systems of trade and commerce.

In a worst-case scenario, “business as usual” may be severely crippled or even cease. Areas with a high incidence of illness may be quarantined. Health officials may have to restrict travel. Borders to certain countries including the US may be closed for a period of time. Given that, it is imperative to take measures to keep your employees healthy, and to have a business emergency plan in place.
Keeping Employees Safe

According to the Centers for Disease Control, these good health practices will significantly slow down the spread of germs within the workplace.

Avoid close contact – Encourage your workers to avoid close contact with people who are sick. When employees are are sick, they should keep their distance from others to protect them from getting sick too. The CDC offers a number of materials to share with your workers here: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/workplace/

Stay home when sick - If possible, encourage workers to stay home when sick. If there is an outbreak in your community, you may want to send workers home who display flu symptoms, or are in close contact with family members with symptoms. Provide appropriate disposable face masks where needed.

Clean hands – Encourage workers to wash their hands often to help diminish the spread of germs. Alcohol-based gel or foam hand sanitizers also work well to destroy viruses and bacteria. Encourage workers to wear disposable gloves where appropriate.

Allow extra time to clean and disinfect between shifts –
Cleaning is more important now than ever. Allow your employees extra time to clean work areas between shifts. Provide proper disinfectants and disposable gloves. Have workers disinfect work surfaces, and communal tools before the next shift arrives.

Communicate prevention information with your employees -
Anticipate employee fear and anxiety, rumors and misinformation and plan communications accordingly. Develop and disseminate programs and materials covering pandemic fundamentals (e.g. signs and symptoms of influenza, modes of transmission), personal and family protection and response strategies (e.g. hand hygiene, coughing/sneezing etiquette, contingency plans). Ensure that communications are culturally and linguistically appropriate. Provide information for the at-home care of ill employees and family members.

Communicate business policy information - Disseminate information to employees about your pandemic preparedness and response plan. Develop effective means (ie. hotlines, dedicated websites) for communicating pandemic status and actions to employees, in a consistent and timely way, including redundancies in the emergency contact system. If you have a liberal leave policy as part of your pandemic plan (consider one if you don't), communicate the situations it would go into effect, and end.

In Part II, I'll talk about maintaining business continuity, and a pandemic plan For those who don't want to wait, check here for other information: http://healthyamericans.org/reports/flu/brochures/FluBrochure.pdf

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Comment by Pam Wilkinson on April 29, 2009 at 1:18pm
Thanks!
Comment by Ken Oswald on April 29, 2009 at 1:12pm
Pam, I sent you some more swine flu FAQ, checklist for individuals and business as well. Hope you can use it. Great posting. Thanks

Ken

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