Businesses Should Heed Call – Protect Employees from H1N1 Flu

Updated: October 13, 2009

The Pandemic Prevention Council announced that between April and June 2009, more than 1 million people are estimated to have become ill with H1N1 flu in the U.S. The virus could lead to as many as 90,000 deaths and hospitalize up to 1.8 million people in the U.S. this fall and winter. The second wave of the swine flu pandemic should be upon us in earnest soon. Fortunately, the virus remains similar in severity to regular flu, but it continues to mutate, and one-quarter of us could fall ill within the next few months.

Employers Face the Critical Task of Educating Employees

Rob Ireland, partner at Mansfield Communications Inc (the firm who commissioned the survey) warns that "Employers need to clearly communicate with employees about such things as extended sick leave policy and procedures to minimize the spread of infection. During a pandemic, employers must become trusted sources of information and help employees make the right choices." He illuminated one of the poll's findings "nearly half of respondents said that they would continue to engage in public activities with full knowledge of their infection. Clearly, there is much to be done to educate America's workforce and help people act appropriately in order to contain the spread of H1N1."

Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health in Phoenix AZ recommends five things businesses and employers should understand.

2. A Pandemic Is Not Inevitable - Business Has a Role to Play

If everyone does their part to slow the spread until the vaccine arrives, we can dramatically cut the amounts of illness and death. Short-term costs can prevent larger costs later. Allowing sick employees to stay home may be difficult, but not as costly as an outbreak among your employees. Employers should provide hand disinfectant to their staff and firm up sick-leave policies. They should work with employees on plans for when children are sick at home, and consider telecommuting policies where possible.

,

3. The Vaccine Will Pay For Itself

Several studies have shown it is cost effective for businesses to bring vaccine providers to their work sites to vaccinate employees. And that's just for the regular seasonal flu, not to mention

Vulnerable Industries Taking Precautions to Prevent Catastrophic Losses

Carol Wight, executive director of National Restaurant Association reminds members to be aware of how devastating an outbreak and panic could be on their business. Some countries, such as Argentina, saw drops in restaurant sales of 50% and 60 %. The U.S. Travel Association and the American Hotel & Lodging Association have also issued guides to prepare for an outbreak. The AHLA advises hotels to assume that absenteeism will increase by at least 25% above normal and could be as high as 40%. It also points out that vendors and their employees might also fall ill, affecting things such as deliveries of food, clean linens and cleaning supplies and trash removal. So far, there are no travel restrictions in place according to the World Health Organization. But hoteliers and tourism industries must also find a delicate balance between informing their employees and guests without discouraging travel.

Small and large employers are taking steps to fight back and prevent what has the potential for economic and life threatening devastation. Jean Bernstein, owner of the Flying Star Cafés, said the company has posters in all its stores to educate managers and employees about sanitation techniques for battling the virus and nearly half of its last employee newsletter was devoted to the topic. That included fact sheets on food; since many people still have the misconception that the swine flu can be spread by eating pork.

The Radisson is making sure it cross-trains more employees, so if many people are out sick, others can fill the jobs, such as the banquet staff shifting to the restaurant. Staff can access a number of programs for sales, catering and finance remotely via the Internet, in order to continue to be productive without sharing germs. They are being very flexible about letting people stay home if they have sick kids, and telling sick employees to stay home until 24 hours after a fever has broken, as well as making sure employees know where to get flu shots.

Management at the Sheraton Hotels says staff is giving door handles extra cleaning, particularly in public areas and meeting rooms. The front desk gets wiped down constantly and they have added hand sanitizers to amenity packages for their guests. Someone is making double sure all sinks have soap, and cleaning staff are focusing more on touch points in rooms, such as telephones, keyboards and other surfaces.

"Cleanliness is next to godliness"

John Wesley 1791

Sources: Mansfield Communications Inc., New Mexico Business Journal, Phoenix Business Journal

The Pandemic Prevention Council announced that between April and June 2009, more than 1 million people are estimated to have become ill with H1N1 flu in the U.S. The virus could lead to as many as 90,000 deaths and hospitalize up to 1.8 million people in the U.S. this fall and winter. The second wave of the swine flu pandemic should be upon us in earnest soon. Fortunately, the virus remains similar in severity to regular flu, but it continues to mutate, and one-quarter of us could fall ill within the next few months.

Employers Face the Critical Task of Educating Employees

Rob Ireland, partner at Mansfield Communications Inc (the firm who commissioned the survey) warns that "Employers need to clearly communicate with employees about such things as extended sick leave policy and procedures to minimize the spread of infection. During a pandemic, employers must become trusted sources of information and help employees make the right choices." He illuminated one of the poll's findings "nearly half of respondents said that they would continue to engage in public activities with full knowledge of their infection. Clearly, there is much to be done to educate America's workforce and help people act appropriately in order to contain the spread of H1N1."

Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health in Phoenix AZ recommends five things businesses and employers should understand.

2. A Pandemic Is Not Inevitable - Business Has a Role to Play

If everyone does their part to slow the spread until the vaccine arrives, we can dramatically cut the amounts of illness and death. Short-term costs can prevent larger costs later. Allowing sick employees to stay home may be difficult, but not as costly as an outbreak among your employees. Employers should provide hand disinfectant to their staff and firm up sick-leave policies. They should work with employees on plans for when children are sick at home, and consider telecommuting policies where possible.

,

3. The Vaccine Will Pay For Itself

Several studies have shown it is cost effective for businesses to bring vaccine providers to their work sites to vaccinate employees. And that's just for the regular seasonal flu, not to mention

Vulnerable Industries Taking Precautions to Prevent Catastrophic Losses

Carol Wight, executive director of National Restaurant Association reminds members to be aware of how devastating an outbreak and panic could be on their business. Some countries, such as Argentina, saw drops in restaurant sales of 50% and 60 %. The U.S. Travel Association and the American Hotel & Lodging Association have also issued guides to prepare for an outbreak. The AHLA advises hotels to assume that absenteeism will increase by at least 25% above normal and could be as high as 40%. It also points out that vendors and their employees might also fall ill, affecting things such as deliveries of food, clean linens and cleaning supplies and trash removal. So far, there are no travel restrictions in place according to the World Health Organization. But hoteliers and tourism industries must also find a delicate balance between informing their employees and guests without discouraging travel.

Small and large employers are taking steps to fight back and prevent what has the potential for economic and life threatening devastation. Jean Bernstein, owner of the Flying Star Cafés, said the company has posters in all its stores to educate managers and employees about sanitation techniques for battling the virus and nearly half of its last employee newsletter was devoted to the topic. That included fact sheets on food; since many people still have the misconception that the swine flu can be spread by eating pork.

The Radisson is making sure it cross-trains more employees, so if many people are out sick, others can fill the jobs, such as the banquet staff shifting to the restaurant. Staff can access a number of programs for sales, catering and finance remotely via the Internet, in order to continue to be productive without sharing germs. They are being very flexible about letting people stay home if they have sick kids, and telling sick employees to stay home until 24 hours after a fever has broken, as well as making sure employees know where to get flu shots.

Management at the Sheraton Hotels says staff is giving door handles extra cleaning, particularly in public areas and meeting rooms. The front desk gets wiped down constantly and they have added hand sanitizers to amenity packages for their guests. Someone is making double sure all sinks have soap, and cleaning staff are focusing more on touch points in rooms, such as telephones, keyboards and other surfaces.

"Cleanliness is next to godliness"

John Wesley 1791

Sources: Mansfield Communications Inc., New Mexico Business Journal, Phoenix Business Journal

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