The influenza season approaches. This year the several seasonal virus varieties are joined by a new strain that requires planning and preparation. Previously called “swine flu” and now sometimes known as Pandemic H1N1, the new strain combines the familiar symptoms and dangers of influenza with the concerning prospect of mutation into more severe forms that could spread quickly.
Employers of all sizes in all industries should prepare now for Pandemic H1N1 influenza outbreaks in their communities. Some preparations are common to all grades of potential outbreak, from mild to severe, and require some thought but limited advance planning. Other preparations, more appropriate for a severe outbreak, require advance planning. The time to develop those plans is now.
Prepare for increased absences. Sending sick workers home and keeping them there until they are better will control the spread of the disease and limit operational interruptions. Family-related leave policies should be reviewed and, if necessary, modified in order to accommodate the likely prospect of schools’ dismissing students and child care programs’ closing.
Encourage relevant hygiene. Post notices about covering coughing mouths and sneezing noses. Ensure availability of soap and tissue. Increase the frequency of surface cleaning.
Plan now for steps that will become necessary if an outbreak becomes more severe. Work environments and processes may need modification to increase distances between workers. Health screening that complies with state and federal law may be advisable in some circumstances.
From the Centers for Disease Control:
Actions Employers Should Take Now
* Review or establish a flexible influenza pandemic plan and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan;
* Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected before flu season;
* Have an understanding of your organization’s normal seasonal absenteeism rates and know how to monitor your personnel for any unusual increases in absenteeism through the fall and winter.
* Engage state and local health department to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information;
* Allow sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs;
* Develop other flexible leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or for children if schools dismiss students or child care programs close;
* Share your influenza pandemic plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them;
* Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts; and
* Add a “widget” or “button” to your company Web page or employee Web sites so employees can access the latest information on influenza: www.cdc.gov/widgets/ and www.cdc.gov/SocialMedia/Campaigns/H1N1/buttons.html
Important Components of an Influenza Pandemic Plan
* Be prepared to implement multiple measures to protect workers and ensure business continuity. A layered approach will likely work better than using just one measure.
* Identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to your employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed tools to determine if your employees are at risk of work-related exposures and, if so, how to respond (see www.osha.gov/dsg/topics/pandemicflu/index.html).
* Review human resources policies to make sure that policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and are consistent with existing state and federal workplace laws (for more information on employer responsibilities, employers should visit the Department of Labor’s and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s websites at www.dol.gov and www.eeoc.gov).
* Allow employees to stay home if they are ill, have to care for ill family members, or must watch their children if schools or childcare facilities close.
* Explore whether you can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), when possible, to increased the physical distance among employees and between employees and others if local public health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies. Ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple workers who may be able to work from home.
* Identify essential business functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations. Plan for how your business will operate if there is increasing absenteeism or these supply chains are interrupted.
* Set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the company’s response plan, altering business operations (e.g., possibly changing or closing operations in affected areas), and transferring business knowledge to key employees. Work closely with your local health officials to identify these triggers.
* Plan to minimize exposure to fellow employees or the public if public health officials call for social distancing.
* Establish a process to communicate information to workers and business partners on your 2009 H1N1 influenza response plans and latest 2009 H1N1 influenza information. Anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly.
The following bulletins should be distributed to managers with relevant responsibilities: