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July 15, 2009

How to Prepare for Swine Flu in Your Workplace

The novel influenza A (H1N1) virus (or "swine flu") has infected people throughout the U.S. and around the world. Private employers should "be thinking ahead about what they would do should this erupt into a full-fledged pandemic…" this fall, says Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
Right now, it’s not known how severe H1N1 will be in the general population, but early reports indicate that few people under age 60 have antibodies to the virus.
Some experts predict significant numbers of U.S. workers will need time off due to personal infection or the need to stay home to care for sick family members.
"Although we have not seen large numbers of severe cases in this country so far, things could possibly be very different in the fall… and we need to start preparing now in order to be ready…," says Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Here are some tips to help you prepare for influenza challenges.
Protect your workers
  • Provide written guidance on influenza and work closely with public health officials to provide the most up-to-date informationOrder this hand wash sign
  • Display signs and posters that remind workers of proper hand washing, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette (Browse hand washing signs here.)
  • Provide sufficient facilities for hand washing and alcohol-based hand sanitizers (or wipes) in common areas such as lobbies, corridors, and restrooms
  • Provide tissues, disinfectants, and disposable towels for employees to clean their work surfaces, as well as appropriate disposal receptacles
  • Disinfect commonly touched hard surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, counter tops, doorknobs and bathroom surfaces
  • Encourage sick workers to stay home and away from the workplace
Protect your business
  • Identify a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for dealing with influenza issues and impact at the workplace
  • Develop and implement protocols for response to ill individuals
  • Determine who will be responsible for responding to ill individuals in the workplace, either through an established health clinic or as a first aid duty
  • Share your plans with employees and clearly communicate expectations
  • Review the CDC’s interim recommendations for facemask and respirator use in non-health care settings (Browse respirator notice signs here.)
  • Identify essential employees, business functions and other critical inputs (raw materials, suppliers and logistics, etc.) required to maintain business operations should there be disruption during an influenza outbreak
Advice from the CDC
Scientists estimate that people are not washing their hands often or well enough and may transmit up to 80% of all infections by their hands. One study showed that influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and infect a person 2-8 hours after being deposited on the surface. Prominent hand washing signs can help reduce infection risk.
Hand washing may be the single most important act to help stop the spread of infection.
The CDC and federal and state Occupational Safety and Health agencies will probably issue new guidance regarding influenza as the situation develops. Here are some additional links to help you prepare:

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