CTEH How-To: Pandemic Preparations
Is an influenza pandemic just around the corner? While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes it’s “impossible to predict when the next pandemic will occur or whether it will be mild or severe,” it’s important for workplaces to plan ahead to minimize any negative human health impacts. To help ensure employee safety and health, CTEH’s industrial hygiene team shared the following pandemic preparation tips:
Develop a disaster plan: The plan should incorporate details including, but not limited to company operations with a reduced workforce; sick policies that encourage employees with symptoms to stay home; potential pathways of exposure or health risks; options for downsizing services as needed; points of communication and more. When developing the disaster plan, businesses should take time to stockpile items that may be needed (i.e., soap, infection control supplies, personal protective equipment) and provide workers with the proper health and safety training (i.e., proper hand hygiene, social distancing techniques).
Put controls in place: Along with existing public health recommendations, employers should use a combination of controls to minimize workplace hazards. These may include engineering controls (i.e., permanent changes that don’t rely on employee or customer behavior); administrative controls (i.e., modification of workers’ schedules and tasks to reduce exposure); work practices (i.e., protocols to reduce duration, frequency or intensity of exposures) or personal protective equipment (i.e., surgical masks, gloves, respirators). Before implementing any controls, employers should first evaluate their workplaces to determine which solutions will be the most effective.
Encourage healthy habits: All workplaces should encourage employees to follow basic hygiene practices such as avoiding close contact with others when sick; covering their mouths or noses when coughing or sneezing; disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and office equipment; and regularly washing hands. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said, hand washing is the “do-it-yourself vaccine” and one of the most effective ways to limit the spread of germs in the workplace.