While the global outbreak of swine flu, officially renamed the H1N1 Influenza, is cause for serious concern, there’s no need for alarm. Here are some prudent practices that will help you and your employees as you navigate current events and prepare for a potentially worsening situation.
1. Stay Informed on the Situation
Try to stay current with the facts of the situation and remember that things are changing very rapidly. Coverage from the national news media may seem overwhelming at times and, at other times, unnecessarily alarming.
There are several websites that provide basic factual information. My favorite is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website: www.cdc.gov/swineflu/, which has numerous resources and documents that are extremely readable and is updated several times a day.
Another good resource is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) site at www.who.int/. You can also look for information from your local Public Health Department, State Public Health agency or your Worker's Compensation Physician’s Panel.
2. Keep Your Workers Informed
The members of your organization need accurate information. Although some reports may sound frightening, incorrect or lack of information creates even greater anxiety because it leads to speculation and rumor and makes people feel out of control.
Take time to schedule brief meetings with your workforce to discuss the current situation and remind them of the things they can do to control the spread of the virus. If face-to-face meetings aren’t possible, use some other form of communication, such as email or letters to home addresses. And keep the information flowing. You may need to provide updates every few days or even every day.
3. Designate a Point Person to Keep Others Informed
Appoint someone in your organization to be the “point person” who can spend some time each day staying on top of the situation, identifying how events apply to you and being available to provide information and research questions. They don’t have to be an authority on flu outbreaks, just someone who can be relied upon to stay on top of current developments and transmit the information as needed.
4. Be Prepared
The WHO has raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 5. A Phase 5 alert is a “strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.”
While no one knows for sure whether this event will turn into a pandemic and if so, how severe it will be, it’s better to prepare right now and begin to act as if it will happen, rather than wait any longer and get caught with little or no time. Remember that we have gone from a Phase 3 alert to a Phase 5 in just three days and Phase 6 means that a pandemic is underway.
Hopefully, your organization has already developed a Pandemic Preparedness Plan, either as a standalone document or as part of your overall Business Continuity Plan. If that isn’t the case for your organization, it’s probably too late to start from scratch now. But you should consider convening a small working group immediately and begin to review the available planning resources and evaluate some concrete steps you can implement quickly, short of a full-blown plan.
Depending upon your situation, it may not take much time to put together some effective strategies and activities. If the pandemic doesn’t materialize or if it ends up being fairly minor in this country, your time will not have been wasted as you can use the work of the group to prepare a more comprehensive Plan for the future.
These resources can help you get started:
1. NFPA 1600, Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs. Unlike most NFPA Standards, this one is available to download for free at http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/nfpa1600.pdf.
2. OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing the Workplace for an Influenza Pandemic http://www.osha.gov/Publications/influenza_pandemic.html
The above recommendations are not complicated and can be implemented easily without any additional outside help.
Remember, nearly every expert in the field of global epidemiology assures us that the issue isn’t whether or not we will have another pandemic, but when. And many think we are way overdue. No matter how this current outbreak turns out, use it as an opportunity to learn how to handle and prepare for a pandemic.