Pandemic Influenza: Are You Ready?
Pandemic Quick Facts
Pandemic influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness that occurs when a new strain of the influenza virus appears and spreads quickly around the world. In 2009, the world experienced a mild pandemic which required us to be prepared as the severity of the flu strain could not be predicted. Your company still needs to be prepared in case of a future pandemic event.
People with the influenza (flu) virus can transmit the virus for 1 day before, and up to 7 days after the start of symptoms (or until symptoms disappear).
It takes 1-7 days for a person to develop influenza after first being exposed.
The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector states that: “during an outbreak in a specific area, it would be appropriate for employers to plan for a total workplace absenteeism rate of between 20% and 25% during the peak two-week period with lower rates in the preceding and subsequent weeks. This contrasts with average total absenteeism in a normal winter of 8%.” Although this estimate is for the health care sector, it is a good estimate for every business to work from in developing Business Continuity Plans (BCP).
Workplaces should plan in order to minimize risk to business operations and to their employees. Workplaces will face challenges such as:
- worker absenteeism
- operational risks
- related supply and demand issues
- employee health issues
How does the influenza virus spread?
The influenza virus spreads from person to person through contact with contaminated droplets from the nose or mouth. These droplets are spread when a person sick with influenza coughs or sneezes. The droplets can travel up to two metres away. The droplets may land on the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) of another person. As well, the droplets can land on surfaces, where they can be picked up on hands, and transferred to the eyes, nose or mouth thereby causing illness.
The influenza virus can survive for:
- 24- 48 hours on hard, non-porous surfaces, such as tables, door handles and railings. People can pick up influenza on their hands and then transfer it to their eyes, nose or mouth.
- 5 minutes on hands, which is why cleaning hands frequently and well is so important for maintaining health.
It takes 1-7 days for a person to develop the illness after first being exposed. People with the influenza virus can transmit the virus for 1 day before, and up to 7 days after the start of symptoms (or until symptoms disappear).
What is Peel Public Health doing to prepare and respond?
Peel Public Health has developed a plan to deal with pandemic influenza as it relates to the healthcare sector. It outlines the roles and responsibilities of Peel Public Health before, during and after a pandemic influenza. This plan is reviewed regularly and updated as needed.
The Region of Peel (including Public Health, Peel Region Emergency Program, Ontario Works), area municipalities, and key stakeholders work closely to ensure that the Region is prepared to respond to an pandemic influenza outbreak. Learn more about Emergency Preparedness
What can workplaces do?
Workplaces will need to maintain a healthy workplace environment and develop policies and procedures on issues related to pandemic influenza. Some of these would include:
|Issues Related to Pandemic Influenza
- cross-train staff on more than one type of job
- consider recruiting retired staff or volunteers
- increase use of part time staff
- plan and collaborate with union representatives
- create a chart of jobs and/or tasks which could be shared
- analyze which jobs and/or tasks could be done from home
- research what technology, supplies and supports staff will need to work from home
- ensure workplace culture and absenteeism policies encourage workers staying home when sick
|Alternative work arrangements
- hold teleconferences and limit face to face meetings
- develop “work from home or alternative worksite” strategies
- stagger shift starts and breaks to reduce the number of people in the workspace at a given time
- arrange work stations and reception area to maintain a distance of 2 metres between individuals
|Employee education to prevent the spread of influenza at work
Internal and external communication strategies
- send internal memos
- post infection prevention signage and instructions (hand washing, alcohol based hand rub,
cover your cough)
- email messages (internal and external)
- update intranet or website with current information to communicate to staff, and consider adding a link to the Region of Peel and the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.
- set up a hotline phone number
Human resource and management issues
- engage employee assistance program services
- arrange transportation alternatives
- provide child and elder care referral
|Cleaning and maintenance practices
- regularly clean high touch surfaces in the workplace such as counter tops, computer keyboards and phones, fleet vehicles, and waiting room furnishings or other equipment used by multiple employees or guests
- provide proper cleaning attire and supplies
- provide alcohol-based hand rub and appropriate cleaning products (commercial cleaning and/or disinfectant products can be used, just be sure to follow manufacturer’s directions)
- remove magazines, toys, books or other items from waiting areas
- schedule regular building maintenance including air handling systems
Maintaining essential supplies
- ensure adequate workplace and employee supplies
- ensure adequate pandemic related supplies: soap, alcohol based hand rub, Kleenex, paper towels, garbage containers
What can employees do at work and at home?
- Wash/clean your hands properly and often using either soap and running water or alcohol based hand rub.
- Get your pandemic flu shot once available, and continue or start getting your annual flu shot
- Get prepared by developing a personal and/or family emergency kit
- Stay home if you are sick (fever, cough, and/or sore throat)
- Cover your cough with your sleeve or a tissue. Be sure to dispose of the tissue and clean your hands immediately after tissue is used
- Try to keep up to 2 metres (6 feet) from people to avoid spreading influenza
- Take medications as advised and prescribed by your healthcare professional
- Maintain good health practices:
- Eat well, rest, and exercise
- Clean objects and surfaces that are handled by many people, personal spaces at work and at home
- Monitor and manage your stress
Additional Resources on Pandemic Preparedness and Infection Prevention
Still have questions? Contact us.