H1N1 Flu Preparation

H1N1 Flu, also known as the Human Swine flu, has been reported all around the world, and the World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic influenza virus. H1N1 is classified as a respiratory illness with symptoms similar to ordinary seasonal flu. It can spread quickly and healthy people can become seriously ill. Symptoms include headache, chills and cough followed by fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches and fatigue, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes and throat irritation. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. In severe cases complications such as pneumonia may develop.

With Canada expecting additional waves of the H1N1 flu virus this fall, Canadian employers and workers must know all the facts to help protect themselves and their workplaces against the virus. Workplaces should have a plan in place if a pandemic were to break out in your place of work. During a pandemic, many issues may come up about what is the best way to keep your business operational, and at the same time, knowing how to protect your employees from the effects of a major influenza outbreak. The best plan of action is to try to eliminate health hazards before they occur, and have a plan in place if the H1N1 flu virus were to hit your place of work.

For employers:

Do you have a Business Continuity Plan that will cover an H1N1 flu outbreak?
A pandemic flu will have an impact on employees, suppliers, and family. Have a plan that will sustain your core business activities for several weeks with reduced staff. Identify your company’s essential functions and the individuals who perform them. Make sure you have trained enough people to properly work in these essential functions. For more information: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Business Continuity Plan

Do all employees know of your plan for a pandemic?
Tell the workforce about the threat of pandemic flu and the steps the company is taking to prepare for it. Clear and frequent communication is essential.

Are sick leaves and absentee policies up to date?
Be prepared for anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent of your employees not being able to come to work, for various reasons including taking care of sick children or spouses, as a result of a flu outbreak.

Is your workplace a healthy work environment?
Ensure adequate air circulation and post tips on how to stop the spread of the virus at work. Promote hand and respiratory hygiene. When regular soap and water facilities are not available, make sure you have a number of alcohol-based hand sanitizer products available.

Encourage all employees to get the flu vaccination.
The Public Health Agency of Canada advises that the seasonal flu shot is unlikely to provide protection against H1N1 Flu Virus. The flu shot will protect against the seasonal flu, and is still highly recommended. A new pandemic vaccine will be available to all Canadians who need and want to receive it in time for the winter flu season. In some provinces and territories you may even be able to set-up a flu shot clinic at your workplace.

Can your computer systems allow or accommodate a large number of people working from home or from other locations?
Set up a system where employees can access e-mail and workplace documents from home. Make sure to communicate regularly and set up check-in times your employees throughout the day.

Be prepared for a range of situations. The true impact of a pandemic flu will not be known until it happens. Remember a pandemic flu can affect anyone.

For employees:

  • Know what steps your workplace has in place for a pandemic. Ask if there is a business continuity plan. Find out what role you have in this plan.
  • Participate in any training and education your workplace offers. During a pandemic, it will be essential for various employees to be able to cover some of the duties normally done by co-workers. Help train others to do aspects of your job as well.
  • Know what “leave” policies your workplace has for sick leave, or for caring for your family. Knowing what options are available ahead of time will help you know what arrangements you need to make.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds after using the washroom, before eating, and after touching common surfaces such as doorknobs, railings, telephones, etc. Try not to touch your eyes, mouth or nose as this helps the virus enter your body more easily.
  • If you are at home with the flu, or taking care of a family member, be sure to keep in touch with your workplace so they know what your situation is.
  • If you have the flu, or think you might, stay home. Staying home when sick, and handwashing are the most effective ways to help slow the spread of a virus.

Source: Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety

Tips for preventing the spread of the H1N1 Flu from the Ministry of Health:

  • Good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of all flu viruses. Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and often.
  • Keep an alcohol-based sanitizer (gel or wipes) handy at work, home and in your car. It needs to be at least 60 per cent alcohol to be effective.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of tissue. Cough into your upper sleeve if you don’t have a tissue.
  • Avoid large crowds of people where viruses can spread easily. Stay home when you are sick.
  • Keep common surfaces and items clean and disinfected.