The American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) members routinely work with their employers and coworkers to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses, including the spread of influenza such as the H1N1 flu. Many have developed and implemented contingency and communications plans for their businesses in an effort to minimize the effects of the H1N1 flu on workers, as well as providing information for workers’ families and communities. ASSE urges all businesses to do the same.
Infectious disease experts have reported that the 2009 H1N1 flu is a novel virus and warn that most people do not have immunity. Therefore, it could spread quickly and infect a large percentage of the population. People with the flu spread the virus by coughing or sneezing near others. People may become infected by breathing in airborne droplets expelled by an infected person or by touching contaminated objects.
If the flu spreads, officials note that small businesses can be especially susceptible to the negative economic impacts of a flu pandemic. Employee education and contingency planning will help offset business losses, minimize disruption to business activities, and protect employees’ health and safety.
ASSE members from around the United States and the ASSE Healthcare Practice Specialty (www.asse.org/practicespecialties/healthcare/) note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but suggest business leaders should:
- Develop and implement preparedness plans
- Participate in and actively promote state and community public health efforts
- Implement prevention and control strategies as recommended by public health officials and healthcare providers
- Encourage employees to participate in influenza vaccination programs annually
- Communicate information about the signs and symptoms of flu illness to employees
- Adopt practices that require sick employees/students to stay home
- Consider allowing employees to borrow against their sick leave to ensure they are non-infectious before returning to work
- Practice good hand hygiene (washing hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water for a minimum of 15 seconds)
- Identify a workplace coordinator, or committee, to be responsible for dealing with H1N1 flu issues and its impact on business operations
- Prepare business continuity plans to maintain operations during times of significant absenteeism in your company and with key business partners to ensure continuity of business operations if there are labor shortages, supply chain disruptions or other business interruptions
- Establish plans to communicate with your employees, contractors and key business partners that perform essential tasks, business functions, supplies and services
- Share your pandemic plans with community leaders
- Establish an emergency communications plan that includes identification of key contacts (with backups), chain of communications (including suppliers, vendors and customers), and processes for tracking and communicating business