American Society of Safety Engineers Offers Tips to Minimize Negative Effects of Flu on Workers, Businesses

American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) members routinely work with their employers and co-workers preventing workplace injuries and illnesses, including the spread of flu 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 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. Social distancing and good hand hygiene help prevent the spread of flu.

Those currently at high risk of serious flu-related complications from 2009 H1N1 flu include children younger than five years old; pregnant women; people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease); adults and children who have a weak immune system; residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; and, persons aged 65 years or older. More information about high risk groups can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/qa.htm.  Some of the symptoms of seasonal and 2009 H1N1 flu virus include fever or chills and cough or sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting. Like seasonal flu, 2009 H1N1 flu complicate underlying chronic medical conditions.

H1N1 Safety Tips

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 and help minimize disruption to business activities; protect employees’ health and safety; and limit the negative impact to the community, economy and society.

“We know risks of this kind can negatively affect workers, families and business operations,” ASSE President C. Christopher Patton, CSP, said today. “Many people are aware of the risks as are our ASSE members, but we want to ensure that all businesses plan now and access the many tools available to prevent the spread of flu. Many businesses now are going above and beyond in working to help minimize the affect the flu may have on their workers and we applaud their efforts.”

ASSE members from around the U.S., including Colorado and Hawaii, and the ASSE Healthcare Practice Specialty (http://www.asse.org/practicespecialties/healthcare/) note that there is no  one-size-fits-all solution,  but suggest business leaders discuss this with their SH&E professional and should:

  • develop and implement preparedness plans as one would for other public health emergencies;
  • 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;  and
  • establish an emergency communications plan which includes identification of key contacts (with back-ups), chain of communications (including suppliers, vendors and customers), and processes for tracking and communicating business, and, have updated employee emergency contact information.  

According to the CDC, adults with the following symptoms should get medical attention immediately -- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen; sudden dizziness; confusion; severe or persistent vomiting; and if flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.

For children, emergency warning signs that show they need urgent medical attention include -- fast breathing or trouble breathing; bluish or gray skin color; not drinking enough fluids; severe or persistent vomiting; not waking up or not interacting; being so irritable that the child does not want to be held; and flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough. To prevent the spread of infection, people with non-severe flu symptoms should call their healthcare provider before going to the doctor’s office or the emergency room.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sites www.cdc.gov and www.flu.gov have flu prevention resources for businesses including guidelines and checklists.   A comprehensive list of resources can be found below.

Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the oldest professional safety organization with more than 32,000 occupational safety, health and environmental practitioner members committed to protecting people, property and the environment. For more information please go to www.asse.org/newsroom  or contact customerservice@asse.org or 847-699-2929.

 

H1N1 FLU PREVENTION RESOURCES – 11.06.09

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) has found the following resources/links will help businesses, SH&E professionals, communities and families plan for & help prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu:

Are You Prepared for the Threat of an Influenza Pandemic?

Officials believe companies worldwide should begin budget and pandemic planning now. To assist in this effort, ASSE offers the following suggestions:

Pandemic Planning

A workplace should keep informed, develop a plan and implement public health programs are some of the tips offered to businesses and members in an ASSE article titled ‘Avian Flu: Infection Control Guidelines’. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, it is suggested that communities, workplaces and individuals should:

  • develop and implement preparedness plans as one would for other public health emergencies;
  • participate and promote state and community public health efforts and implement prevention and control actions recommended by public health officials and providers who can supply information about the signs and symptoms of a specific disease outbreak and to communicate this information with employees;
  • participate in influenza vaccination programs annually;
  • participate in annual health promotion programs to prevent airborne, blood borne, waterborne, food borne and contact types of diseases and infections if you are a healthcare worker, school teacher, work in protecting public safety, prison population and an emergency responder;
  • adopt business and school practices that encourage sick employees/students to stay home;
  • anticipate how to function with a significant portion of the workforce/school population absent due to illness or caring for ill family members;
  • practice good health habits;
  • stay informed about pandemic influenza and be prepared to respond;
  • use national and local pandemic hotlines that will be established in the event of a global influenza outbreak; and consult the White House web site for national and international information

Additional Resources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the World Health Organization; your state or local health department to notify them of any symptomatic employees or suspected exposure incidents; White House’s web site; and OSHA’s 'Guidance for Protecting Workers Against Avian Flu'. Click here for a full copy of the ASSE article.