Concerns about H1N1, last week we called it swine flu, have receded a bit in the headlines. Gallup reports that 25% of Americans are worried about contracting this infection but only 1% of workers have stayed home from work with flu fears. These numbers have not increased significantly from earlier polls as the threat feels like it is diminishing.
So should we continue to promote good hand washing habits, breath a sigh of relief and just go back to business? You can but OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, recommends that you create a plan to respond to potential hazards, just like this one. Preparing for an outbreak of disease falls within the employer responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace and it can provide peace of mind and direction if this outbreak worsens or reoccurs at a more threatening level.
OSHA provides a comprehensive guide, “Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic” with step by step recommendations broken down by type of employer and potential exposure. A severe pandemic will affect organizations as they experience absenteeism, change in the pattern of operations or commerce and potential disruptions in supplies.
Employers should make certain that they:
- Maintain policies that encourage ill employees to stay home without fear of any reprisal. Send home workers who are on the job and obviously too ill to remain in the workplace.
- Ensure policies and practices prohibit retaliation against any employee who reports infection, or potential infection, with H1N1 flu virus or fear of reporting to work due to H1N1 virus in the workplace.
- Plan for operations that minimize personal interactions including the use of conference calls and videoconferencing in place of face-to-face meetings, expansion or introduction of telecommuting or working remotely and whenever possible avoid close contact by limiting social distance.
It would be nice to have a plan that is updated on a scheduled basis but otherwise gathers dust on a shelf. It’s like carrying an umbrella when there is a chance of showers, it may never rain, but it’s good to have when the skies darken.