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Flu season is in full swing – do you have a flu preparedness plan?

January 28, 2015

By Kristin Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

As we start 2015, recent reports show that it is quickly shaping up to be a very tough flu season and employers should be prepared in case large numbers of their workforce get sick.

The geographic spread of influenza in 46 states (including Michigan) was reported as widespread for the week ending January 10th, according to the latest information from FluView from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  The CDC also reports pneumonia and influenza were responsible for 8.5% of all deaths in the first week of January.  This figure was above the epidemic threshold of 7.0% for that week, noted the CDC.

One of the main reasons the flu will be so much worse this year is that the current strain of the virus has mutated, leaving the current vaccine only 23% effective, says CDC.  In other years the vaccine was a better match to the flu strains that were spreading at the time.  “Commonly, it has been closer to 60%,” said Brendan Flannery, an epidemiologist at the CDC’s influenza division. Flannery said this year’s figure is nearly the lowest the agency has seen during the decade or so since it began tracking annual vaccine effectiveness.

So what can employers do to pro-actively prepare?

Some of the more obvious things include routinely cleaning frequently touched objects and surfaces, including doorknobs, keyboards, and phones, to help kill germs.  Make sure your workplace has an adequate supply of tissues, soap, paper towels, alcohol-based hand rubs, and disposable wipes.

You may wish to take it a proactive step further by developing a disaster plan that also includes flu pandemic preparedness.  Some of the key features recommend by OSHA include the following:

  • Prepare and plan for operations with a reduced workforce.
  • Develop a sick leave policy that does not penalize sick employees, thereby encouraging employees who have influenza-related symptoms (e.g., fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, or upset stomach) to stay home so that they do not infect other employees. Recognize that employees with ill family members may need to stay home to care for them.
  • Identify possible exposure and health risks to your employees (e.g., Do your employees have a lot of contact with the general public?).
  • Even if it means upgrading your technology to make it happen, consider allowing more of your employees to work from home to minimize exposure to fellow employees or the public.
  • Identify business-essential positions and people needed to keep them functioning. Cross-train or develop other ways to cover those positions if you lose those people to illness. OSHA recommends having three people sufficiently prepared to back up each position. Make sure those people know they are expected to step in if necessary.
  • Make sure that employees are aware of the organization’s disaster plan and how it protects and supports them, your customers and the general public. Be aware of your employees’ concerns about pay, leave, safety and health. Informed employees who feel safe at work are less likely to be absent.
  • Develop policies and practices that physically distance employees from each other, your customers and the general public. Consider practices that minimize face-to-face contact between employees such as e-mail, websites and teleconferences.
  • Provide your employees and customers in your workplace with easy access to infection control supplies, such as soap, hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment (such as gloves or surgical masks), tissues, and office cleaning supplies.

Additional recommendations to develop a pandemic flu disaster plan are available through OSHA. Find them at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/influenza_pandemic.html

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