At the end of July I wrote about how to prepare yourselves for the coming return of H1N1 swine flu. This is a follow up for what your organization can do to help keep your employees safe and healthy.
If you have a business continuity plan, dust it off, ensure that it is up to date, and ensure that your employees know what is in it and what their responsibilities are. If you do not have a continuity plan, it is still possible to protect your employees, but you may have a harder time keeping the organization running.
If your organization is brick and mortar, such as a school, restaurant, soup kitchen, or store, you should be in contact with your local department of health as they most likely have developed guidelines for your situation which probably include steps to be followed for mandatory closure.
Rule number one is that sick employees do not belong at work. If you do not pay sick time or your workers don’t have any left, this could be a problem if they are living paycheck to paycheck. To protect your organization and your employees, you might need to reevaluate your sick time rules and pay employees to stay home even if they otherwise would not be entitled to wages. If there is a pandemic, doctors will not have time to write stay at home and return to work notes, so don’t ask for one.
Train Your Employees
Fear is not the answer, but education and preparation are. You need to ensure that your employees can tell facts from myths and especially that they understand how the virus is transmitted and how to prevent transmission. Flu is spread through droplets from the nose and throat of an infected person during coughing and sneezing, not mist. This is a good thing as droplets don’t hang in the air as long as mist does. However, droplets do land on surfaces and also can be transferred from an infected person’s cough or sneeze into their hand, to a surface, to a non-infected person’s hand, to their face.
The objective is to prevent transfer of droplets and here are some ways to do that:
- Post signs in toilets and rest areas with instructions for how to keep hands and work areas clean.
- Employees should be encouraged to wash their hands frequently. Specific CDC recommendations include keeping your hands clean by washing with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water may not be available, such as when you’re on the go.
- Every conference room and break area without a sink should have a bottle of hand sanitizer. You also might want to mount a bottle on each floor in the elevator lobby.
- Every month, provide each employee with a box of alcohol-based antiseptic wipes. If you must share telephones, workstations, computers, two-way radios, etc. then everyone should be trained to wipe them down at the end of their shift. Bus and taxi drivers, police and fire crews should wipe down the steering wheel, radio, microphone, etc. in their vehicles when they leave.
- Because it is impossible to prevent droplets from landing on the mouthpiece of a telephone, each employee should have their own headset which can be locked away or taken home with them.
- Ensure that employees know which cleaning agents should not be used for specific tasks, such as those that can damage surfaces or equipment, or worse create a toxic mixture. For example, mixing bleach (like Clorox) and ammonia (like Windex) will force evacuation of your workplace.
- If you have two or more receptionists in the same area, try to separate them by at least six feet to prevent them from infecting each other. If H1N1 is raised to pandemic status, you will need to separate all employees by at least six feet. This is where your business continuity plan will come into play because only critical employees will be able to come to the office.
Who’s Guarding the Guards?
If you have a captive or contract guard force, don’t forget to include them in your training and support plans. Since they are out and about, they need more protection than your average worker. Your guard staff already should be trained in CPR/AED/Oxygen and each should be carrying personal protective equipment such as gloves and a CPR mouth barrier. It already may be to late to put them on order, but you might want to equip them with N95 respirators in case the pandemic goes into full swing.
If your guard staff are contracted, now is the time to talk with your representative. Do they have contingency plans in place? What happens if a large number of your guard staff are taken ill, would you need to close your office? Would you close down some buildings or floors so that you can concentrate protection on a smaller area?
Be prepared. Don’t be a fear monger, be an educator. Ensure your employees know what they need to do before they need to do it. Practice, practice, practice. Buy supplies now because when flu season starts, they either will not be available or the price will go up. Cleanliness is next to Godliness – and it’s the best way to keep safe and healthy when winter comes.