Tips on Avoiding Swine Flu Outbreaks in the Workplace

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By Hedley Lawson: Contributing Editor

The presidential advisory panel reported on Aug. 24 that the H1N1 virus, commonly known as Swine Flu, could infect between 30 percent and 50 percent of the American population and could lead to some 90,000 deaths this Fall and Winter. Is your organization prepared for an H1N1 Flu outbreak?

Here are some tips for dealing with swine flu in the workplace.

Prepare a contingency plan now

1. Consider what your policy will be in relation to staff who do not want to attend work or travel for risk of contracting the virus and ensure that you have clear guidelines to deal with employees who have flu-like symptoms.

2. Consider whether any “precautionary absences” will be paid or unpaid. Some employers are offering holiday or unpaid leave in these circumstances.

3. Calculate the minimum numbers of employees required to run a location or department.

4. Compile a list of transferable skills of each staff and consider which staff could easily be retrained or redeployed.

Review and update your practices and policies

1. Keep up-to-date with government guidance adjusting your policies as necessary to take into account new advice. Stick to passing on government guidance only, and do not be tempted to make up your own guidelines on how to deal with the flu outbreak.

2. Review relevant policies in relation to sickness, absence, dependant leave, flexible working hours and consider whether these need to be modified.

3. Consider whether telecommuting is possible should the virus continue to spread. Make sure your IT department can accomodate.

4. Consider allowing employees to work more flexible hours to enable them to care for sick relatives.

Health and safety

1. Consider what measures you can introduce to help prevent or minimize the spread of flu.

2. Encourage hand washing, use of tissues, and cleanliness of communal areas by putting up signs.

3. Provide training to staff on hygiene issues and any new health and safety measures.

4. Keep staff up to date with the latest government information, including the CDC.