Now that we have the first confirmed case of swine flu here in Ohio, it makes sense to dust off the guidance we received from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Center for Disease Control when the avian flu was prompting concerns about a pandemic flu in the United States. Thus far, the confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States appear to have been relatively mild, but employers nevertheless should prepare to do their part to reduce the threat of pandemic flu and to respond should their workplaces be hard hit.
Those employers who want to be ahead of the game if the outbreak becomes more widespread should review the attached handbook entitled Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic, which was prepared by OSHA back in 2007. The handbook contains common sense advice for all employers to help reduce the risk of spreading the disease. For most employers, the recommendations are not rocket science nor difficult to implement. They mostly involve encouraging sick employees to stay home, encouraging basic hygiene practices in the workplace, and encouraging "social distancing" (i.e. avoiding close contact and crowds of people). The handbook also sets forth more extreme recommendations for employers with a medium exposure risk because of frequent close employee contact with the general public and for employers with high exposure risk due to frequent close employee contact with infected individuals. For healthcare workers and employees, OSHA also issued a handbook in 2007, which can be accessed here. If the CDC and/or OSHA issue any further guidance in light of this most recent flu outbreak, we will let you know.
Though, the risks of pandemic flu still are being downplayed at this point, employers may also want to revisit their disaster plans for continuing operations in case of widespread employee absences.