Employers should now start taking precautionary steps to respond to the growing outbreak of swine flu

Nixon Peabody LLP issued this OSHA Alert on 4/28/2009

On Sunday, April 26, 2009, the U.S government declared a public health emergency concerning the outbreak of swine influenza A (H1N1; “Swine Flu”). As of the date of this Alert, only a limited number of cases of swine flu infection in the United States have been confirmed. The largest outbreak has occurred in Mexico.

The declaration of a public health emergency is obviously important and indicates that public health officials view this outbreak as a potential serious threat. However, it is also important for employers to put the declaration  in perspective and  help employees avoid undue fear. This declaration does not mean that the outbreak has become a pandemic or that a pandemic is imminent. In fact, the declaration is actually a standard early step procedure that results in monitoring and testing of suspect cases, triggers additional reporting protocols, and increases media and public outreach to get information and warnings out.

Watch this Video on Swine Flu from the Center of Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta, GA

Employers should likewise now take early stage action to educate employees and prepare for the impact of a swine flu outbreak in the workplace. This recommendation is particularly true for high-risk workplaces such as hospitals, medical offices, schools, and workplaces that provide services to high-risk populations. However, it is prudent for all employers now to take precautionary steps. Most employers can best do so through a written communicable illness response plan, which then serves as a guide for management and employees.

For those employers who have such a program in place, now is the time to review and update your program and activate it. For those employers who do not yet have a program, now is the time to implement one. Waiting until a crisis occurs is waiting too long. It is virtually impossible to develop and effectively implement such a program under crisis conditions, and by waiting, you will miss the opportunity to take proactive preventative steps.

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