Swine Flu Preparations
Knowledge of Risk is the Best Course of Action
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the H1N1 virus is a global pandemic and on Friday issued a statement that the H1N1 flu will EXPLODE. The mere fact that the WHO has made this determination sends shivers of fright down the backs of employers all over the world. Even though the anxiety level of the H1N1 virus has subsided over the summer, there have been a few reports lately that bring the likelihood of it making a comeback much more probable.
We have already had a few reports of employees of our clients coming down with the H1N1 virus. This has caused quite a bit of concern and, in some cases, downright hysteria among co-workers. As is the case of all diseases and control measures, knowledge of the risks of contracting diseases are the best forms of prevention and employers should be prepared for the inevitability of the H1N1 virus spreading in the workplace and have plans in place in the event it does.
The first thing to do is to not overreact to the dangers of the H1N1 virus as according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the level of illness with the new H1N1 virus has ranged from mild to severe. While most people who have been sick have recovered without needing medical treatment, hospitalizations and deaths from infection with this virus have occurred with certain people who are at “high risk” of serious complications. This “high risk” group includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. According to the CDC, “About 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with the H1N1 virus have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing people at ‘high risk’ of serious seasonal flu-related complications. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease.”
Upcoming Flu Season May be a “Double Jeopardy” – In addition to the usual annual flu season in the fall and winter of each year, the 2009/2010 season may have twice the impact due to the addition of the threat of the H1N1 virus. The CDC anticipates that more communities may be affected than were in the spring/summer 2009, and/or more severely affected reflecting wider transmission and possibly greater impact. In addition, seasonal influenza viruses may cause illness at the same time as 2009 H1N1 this fall and winter. So we must all be prepared for the liklihood of a flu outbreak in the Fall and Winter of 2009 and 2010.
Flu Shots – The First Line of Defense. The 2009/2010 flu vaccination is available now. As a company, determine if you will pay all or a portion of the cost for vaccinating your employees. The cost should be no more than $15.00 per employee and there are many organizations in your community that provide flu shots including doctors offices and critical care clinics. Many of these organizations will come to your business location to immunize your employees. Businesses must weigh the cost of flu shots with the cost of absenteeism.
Keep Hands and Public Areas Clean – Make sure employees have hand disinfectant and the soap dispensers in the bathrooms are filled. Instruct employees to wash their hands often. If there are kitchen or break areas in your facility, make sure they are cleaned often with a disinfectant. Designate an employee to wash all public areas every day.
Tell Sick People to Stay Home – The worst thing an employee with flu symptoms can do is come to work and infect other employees. The CDC also recommends that employees stay home for at least 24 hours after a fever subsides. Another thing to do is to take a look at your paid time off policy to determine if it allows flexibility for employees to stay home to take care of sick children, spouse or parent. For those employers who are required to abide by FMLA regulations, make sure all of your employees are well versed in their reporting responsibilities.
The CDC does not recommend that employees with a family member with the flu stay home. But they do recommend frequent washing of hands and covering of the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
Understand that Schools May Close – If the H1N1 virus or the seasonal flu becomes widespread, it may require that the schools, elder care and child care facilities to close. This will force employees to stay home with their children or elderly parents. Therefore, businesses must be a little more flexible in allowing employees to take time off. It may be a good idea to determine which employees may need to take off and which employees will be able to work in these circumstances to ensure critical operations are covered.
Make a Plan for the Worst – What will you do if the flu spreads thoughout your organization? How will you continue your business operations? Will you allow telecommunting wherever possible?
We do not purport to be medical experts, so contacting the local department of health or the CDC for additional information is the best course of action to take. The link to the CDC website for Guidance for Businesses and Employers To Plan and Respond to the 2009–2010 Influenza Season is https://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/business/guidance/.
Look this up. Read the information and contact their hotline at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to obtain more information.
Keep it healthy and keep it safe this flu season.