Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Training is key to preventing the flu at work

As of this morning, there have been 64 confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S., including 45 in New York City, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In response to the intensifying outbreak, President Barack Obama said that swine flu is a cause for concern, but not a cause for alarm. Because government officials don’t yet know how widespread the flu may be in the U.S., they are focused on aggressive planning and precautions.

The CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have developed a planning checklist for businesses, especially large businesses, to use in the case of a swine flu pandemic.
“In the event of pandemic influenza, businesses will play a key role in protecting employees' health and safety as well as limiting the negative impact to the economy and society,” the agencies said in a statement at PandemicFlu.gov. “Planning for pandemic influenza is critical.”

Along with how a pandemic could impact business operations, the checklist also includes valuable information that any organization can use to educate and inform employees on the dangers of the flu.

Officials suggest that businesses complete these tasks to communicate to and educate employees:

  • Develop and disseminate programs and materials covering pandemic fundamentals (e.g. signs and symptoms of influenza, modes of transmission), personal and family protection and response strategies (e.g. hand hygiene, coughing/sneezing etiquette, contingency plans).
  • Anticipate employee fear and anxiety, rumors and misinformation and plan communications accordingly.
  • Ensure that communications are culturally and linguistically appropriate.
  • Disseminate information to employees about your pandemic preparedness and response plan.
  • Provide information for the at-home care of ill employees and family members.
  • Develop platforms (e.g. hotlines, dedicated websites) for communicating pandemic status and actions to employees, vendors, suppliers, and customers inside and outside the worksite in a consistent and timely way, including redundancies in the emergency contact system.
  • Identify community sources for timely and accurate pandemic information (domestic and international) and resources for obtaining counter-measures (e.g. vaccines and antivirals).

Educating and training employees on the dangers of the flu, including swine flu, is the best way to prevent illness within your organization and calm employees’ fears about a potential outbreak at work. Be prepared to answer employees’ questions and concerns, and prepared to squash any misinformed rumors that may be circling the office.

Whether your business is preparing for a natural disaster like a hurricane or flood, or a health crisis like the flu, your success will ultimately be determined by the information and training your workforce receives. Ensure that everyone in your organization knows what to do during a crisis. Your business depends on it.

Is it time for businesses to start getting involved? Is your company actively preparing for a swine flu outbreak? What types of informational materials/training have you provided employees with?

Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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