COVID-19, swine flu, polio, Hong Kong flu, HIV/AIDS. What do all these diseases have in common? They are some of the pandemics that have occurred in the past 100 years, none of which have been completely eradicated worldwide. We have just recently heard about monkey pox, a serious, contagious illness. It seems we hear about a new strain of COVID-19 every few months. People still live with HIV/AIDS. While there have been no new cases of polio in the United States in decades, it still exists in other countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We remember the toll that a nation-wide shutdown took on us economically, emotionally, and physically during the early days of COVID-19. What can be done to protect our workers, not just from the newer strains of coronaviruses and the flu, but from other pandemics as well? We have some suggestions for you.
1. Plan ahead. We heard about a new flu-like virus in late 2019, but some of us were blindsided by the affect COVID-19 had on the world by February and March of 2020. Few companies had planned for protecting their employees and their productivity from the tragic outcomes. Employees got very sick, some fatally. Businesses shut down, some not reopening, while others are still struggling to return to the same productivity level that they had just over two years ago. The companies that have had better success had done some strategic planning.
We can’t tell you exactly how to plan ahead for your business, because each company is unique. But there are some resources you can use. We recommend the CDC’s pandemic influenza site as a starting point. Here’s the link: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/planning-preparedness/national-strategy-planning.html. It has a list of additional resources, in addition to providing some guidance.
2. Do a site assessment. Look at where you conduct work for certain factors that come into play in disease control. Different diseases are transmitted differently. With COVID-19, you need to ensure that you have a good ventilation system because it is an inhalation hazard. For some strains of the flu, you need to think about sanitization of commonly touched items, because you can transmit it through touching contaminated objects.
If you have a business that sends people to various locations, make sure your employees are protected as they travel, with sanitizing wipes and, if needed, face coverings. If you travel out of the U.S., we recommend you look at the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory site, linked here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html.
3. Vaccinations. Polio vaccinations in the U.S. have essentially stopped the disease in the U.S.. Flu vaccinations help to save lives annually. When travelling, contact your physician about any potential recommendations they may have for you. Vaccinations work. Encourage your employees to get vaccinated. Here’s a link to a good article on the benefits of vaccinations for adults: https://www.uhhospitals.org/Healthy-at-UH/articles/2021/06/5-vaccines-recommended-for-adults-age-65-and-older.
4. Training. Too often, as safety professionals, we see our clients get written plans and programs, put them in a file on a server or on a shelf, and forget about them. All the preplanning you do won’t help your employees if you don’t tell them what you have planned and what you want them to do for their safety. Tell your existing employees and then make the information part of your new hire on-boarding process. As you update the pandemic plan, tell them about the update. They will appreciate that you have provided for their safety.
We can’t stop pandemics from happening. But we can do things to lessen the impact it has on our businesses. As we learned during 2020, the time to plan for any emergency is before it starts, not after it is in progress.