OH&S Procedures for Swine Flu
Under Occupational Health and Safety laws all employers have a duty of care to ensure their staff and public are not infected. This leaves the employer liable to pick up the bill for sick leave and the drop in production.
Characteristics of Swine Flu
You can catch swine flu pretty much the same way you catch other types of flu; the virus is mainly spread from person to person through droplets after an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through touching (e.g., when a person shakes hands with another). It is easier to catch in confined or crowded spaces.
The symptoms of swine flu are similar to normal flu - fever, cough, tiredness, muscle aches, sore throat, chills, shortness of breath, runny nose and headache. Some cases have also complained of vomiting and diarrhoea. In some cases, swine flu can result in the development of severe pneumonia. Symptoms generally manifest between two and four days after exposure.
Swine flu is thought to be sensitive to antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza, but resistant to both Amantadine and Rimantadine.
The quarantine period for suspected H1N1 infection is three days if a person takes Tamiflu and up to seven days if they don't. So far, people with symptoms have responded quickly to treatment with Tamiflu.
Preventative measures could include:
- Ensuring somebody within the company is responsible for keeping up to date with the latest swine flu developments and information;
Communicating relevant information to employees, but without causing undue alarm;
- Emphasising the importance of hygiene, such as regular and thorough hand washing;
- Employers and employees agreeing on appropriate leave arrangements when they have flu symptoms;
- Restricting overseas travel, requiring those who return from overseas to be cleared before returning to work, and taking steps in relation to personal hygiene and workplace cleanliness;
- Setting up protocols regarding arrangements for employees to work from home in the event that there is an outbreak;
- Studying the existing employment contracts and handbooks (if any) and, if necessary, put a policy in place regarding sick leave, Annual leave and unpaid leave in circumstances when there is an outbreak;
- Communicating the relevant health advice and guidelines to employees;
- Ensuring that the workplace is kept clean and hygienic and providing adequate and proper face masks and other personal protective equipment when necessary;
- Adopting a compassionate and flexible attitude in dealing with sick leave;
- Considering, if necessary, requiring employees to take annual leave to minimise spread of the Swine Flu amongst employees; and
Being aware of possible breach of the anti-discrimination law and seeking legal advice if necessary.
- Review company travel policies, hygiene and medical screening policies and policies on anti-virals and healthcare support, including providing anti-bacterial sanitiser, masks and other materials
- Identify possible social-distancing and other means to minimise exposure and the spread of illness within the workplace
- Review methods for providing ongoing information about both the pandemic threat and the status of the business to employees at work and at home
- In population centres, make sure plans allow for staff to work from home where possible and appropriate
- Consider if there are any vital processes that must be maintained for the normal location or a centre location in a pandemic, for example, call centres, health services, and services vital to the vulnerable
- Review the structure that will be necessary to manage the crisis effectively. This includes how to implement multiple business continuity plans, cope with any significant increase in the number of employees working from home and substantial changes to the marketplace and the supply chain
- Ensure crisis management and business continuity management plans include pandemic scenarios and exercise the plans where possible.
Employers should also take advice to ensure that in taking such action, they also comply with all other continuing legal obligations such as anti-discrimination laws, industrial awards and agreements.
Sources: Minter Ellison Lawyers, Insurance broker and risk adviser Marsh
From Daryl Keeley
Director of MACRO Recruitment
Follow we on twitter as HRCoach
PS: I'd love to hear how you are addressing the OH&S issues surrounding Swine flu.