Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Pandemic Flu - Guidance for unions

Ever since the first news reports came out about the swine flu pandemic I've been asking the question, what is the company's policy?
As far a most of us can see there isn't one. I've taken a few bits from the TUC's Pandemic Flu - Guidance for unions document for you to read and pester your manager about. Full report can be read here. http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/tuc-13401-f0.cfm

The fatality rate for previous pandemics has varied from 0.2% to 2% with between 25% and 50% of the population being affected during the outbreak. The present flu virus seems to be “milder” than some previous ones. In addition many people who were alive during the 1957 flu outbreak seem to have some immunity from the current strain. The Government estimates that the number of deaths from flu this winter could be anywhere between 19,000 and 65,000 compared to 6-8,000 in an average year. This however will depend on how quickly an effective vaccine can be developed. To date almost all deaths have been among those with an underlying health condition.

Why pandemic influenza is an issue for trade unions

The TUC believes that trade unions and employers, working together, can make a significant difference in ensuring that the effects of the pandemic are minimised, that the workforce are educated and informed on transmission issues, and in helping ensure there is no panic.

Why you must act now

It is important that employers do not wait until the autumn, when the pandemic develops further before considering what measures they need to take. At the same time, it is also important that people do not take panic measures. Although the government response is based on the “worst case scenario”, with the closure of schools, major problems with transport and distribution, and very high levels of sickness, it will be impossible to predict the actual full effect of a pandemic until the beginnings of an outbreak. That is why forward planning must be flexible, practical, and based on realistic assessments of likely risk.

What unions can do

Trade unions should ensure that their employer has in place either a separate policy for dealing with pandemic influenza, or a general policy covering major disasters or incidents that also covers major public health incidents such as pandemic influenza. It should not be left to employers alone to decide on what is an appropriate response. Unions must also be involved, as any effective policy must have the confidence of the whole workforce.

Among the things that unions should look at are:
Do the employer’s plans underestimate the possible absence rate in the event of a major pandemic, as a consequence of employee infection and/or if the schools close.?
Have they looked at issues around supply of materials or services?
Have all departments been involved in drawing up the plan?
Does it treat all staff equally?
Have they considered the operation of functions such as cleaning and catering, if these are not done “in-house”?

Personal protection
Some employers have decided that one of the steps they should take to prepare for a pandemic influenza outbreak is to keep stockpiles of gloves, masks, and hand sanitising liquid. The TUC does not recommend the use of gloves or masks in most workplaces for a variety of reasons. Gloves do not prevent infection as people will still touch their skin with the gloves and then touch another surface or person.

The use of hand sanitising liquid is slightly different. It may be that some public organisations will make it available at key entry areas or where there is likely to be contact between people. Public transport systems may use some form of sanitising spray in the event of an outbreak. However, care should be taken to ensure that any products used are fully safe to use and are not likely to exceed their sell-by date within the next few years if they are buying future supplies for storing..

Many employers will also plan to step up their cleaning regimes in the event of an outbreak. However, they should bear in mind that it is likely that the number of cleaning staff may be reduced as a result of illness. Damp rather than dry dusting should be carried out during a pandemic to avoid the generation of dust and it is recommended that the cleaning of surfaces be carried out using a freshly prepared solution of detergent and hot water followed, where necessary, by a chlorine based disinfectant solution.
Every month I ask for items to raise at the work force reps meeting. Every month people bring up the state of the mess rooms.

Personal hygiene
This is one area which employers can start taking action on straight away. One of the ways in which any virus is likely to spread quickly is through hand to face contact, coughing and sneezing. Employers and union activists can download material from the Department of Health in order to educate people on the importance of hand-washing and the use of handkerchiefs now, rather than waiting for a pandemic to break out.

The HSE has a web page on pandemic influenza which includes advice on what to do now a pandemic has been declared:http://www.hse.gov.uk/biosafety/diseases/pandemic.htmThe Department of Health pandemic influenza website, which includes the current contingency plan is at:http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/PandemicFlu/index.htmAdvice is also available on the Health Protection Agency Website:http://www.hpa.org.uk/infections/topics_az/influenza/pandemic/default.htmThe Faculty of Occupational Medicine advice is athttp://www.facoccmed.ac.uk/library/docs/panflu09.pdf

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