Preparing your workplace for a major flu outbreak

A widespread outbreak of the flu or a pandemic can have serious consequences for the workplace. Preparing now for a future pandemic makes good business sense.

If you already have a plan for managing a pandemic, it’s a good idea to review those plans in light of current conditions. If you have not given consideration to planning for a pandemic, here are some tips to help you get prepared:

Establish a flu manager. Identify a person in your organization who can take responsibility for health and safety measures and give that person the time to assemble a Pandemic Response Plan, with appropriate resources and committee if required.

Support a hygienic workplace. Even the deadliest of flu viruses are destroyed with soap and water. Washing hands, using tissues, and wiping common surfaces like door handles and telephones is a very effective first line of defense.

Stock up on hygienic supplies, including tissues, medical and hand hygiene products, cleaning supplies (to sanitize workstations) and masks (for infected individuals). These items may be difficult to obtain once a pandemic begins.

Communicate early. Establish a communication plan for employees and business contacts. Provide current influenza information to all employees. Identify and make available information on community resources.

In the event of a pandemic, your employees will look to you for up-to-date information. Good communication with your employees is essential to avoid rumours and misinformation. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Pre-build a web page that can go live in the event of a pandemic and include key contacts and a tracking system for
    employee status.
  • Establish a phone tree in the case of internet disruptions.
  • Make certain you are especially clear about the importance of staying away from the workplace if they become ill.
    Preparing to address concerns, such as potential lost wages can be one of the largest deterrents to self-quarantine.

Anticipate significant staff absences. Consider the disruption to your organization if one-third of employees are home sick or caring for their families. Identify key roles that need to be maintained and make certain other people can cover them. Review Information Technology (IT) plans to ensure resources are in place to allow some people to work from home if needed.

Consider temporary closures. Can the organization remain operational with “skeletal” staff? What are the pros and cons of closing down the entire operation? If supply lines are cut there may be no other option. Determine the implications of being shut down for a week, a month, or six months.

Protect your staff. The first priority in an outbreak will be managing the health of your employees and limiting the spread of the disease within the organization. Educate staff of signs of illness and ensure that they go home immediately. Determine what your policy is for high risk employees such as expectant mothers and spouses. Monitor staff who are ill. Track their progress by phone and help them arrange for somebody to provide care. Ensure that quarantine periods as set by your public health system are followed before returning to the workplace.

Secure your data. Back up essential files off site. Provide access to a network of key employees and be clear about what roles they will need to step into should other employees be off the job.

Review employment policies. Know your rights and rights of your employees in an extreme health crisis. Can you require staff to stay away if they are sick? Are there clauses for business closures or emergency situations? Will you provide sick pay for an extended pandemic outbreak? What efforts can you expect from healthy staff who may not be able to report to work when public transit is shut down?

For assistance with Pandemic Planning for your organziation, please visit the following website: Guidance for Businesses and Employers To Plan and Respond to the 2009-2010 Influenza Season


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H1N1 News Update,

October 22, 2009

Canada has launched a massive H1N1 Vaccination program this week with the formal approval of the vaccination. The Government of Canada has authorized the use of the H1N1 flu vaccine, which is called AREPANRIX and is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Getting the H1N1 flu vaccine is the best way for Canadians to protect themselves and others from getting infected. The Government of Canada has ordered enough vaccine for all Canadians who need and want protection. Certain groups of people are more at risk for complications of the flu, and will be encouraged to get the vaccine as soon as possible. These groups include pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, and children under the age of five.

For more details visit:

Recommendations for the use of the H1N1 Flu Vaccine

Latest News - H1N1 Flu Virus

October 8th 2009
(News Canada, Ottawa)

The potentially deadly H1N1 flu virus could hit 25 to 35% of Canadians in coming months, health officials warned as they urged Canadians to get the vaccine once it is available in early November. Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, said this strain of the flu is so new that most Canadians won’t have the same immunity that they have had in the past to the regular strains of seasonal flu.

“At least at the beginning of the flu season, we expect it will be the pandemic H1N1 flu virus that will be circulating in communities across this country and to which very few of us will have any immunity.” Butler-Jones predicted three to four times more people will get sick from H1N1 than from the regular seasonal flu and he said vaccinations will be available for everyone who wants one. The vaccine is currently being produced in Quebec, Canadian clinical trials begin in mid-October and it will go through final stages of regulatory approval by the end of the month — with officials balancing speed and safety throughout.

“This is the largest immunization campaign in history,” said Butler-Jones. “We have to get it right”. "Keeping in mind that we've ordered enough vaccine for every Canadian that needs and wants to be immunized, our basic approach is to ensure that those that need it most get it first”. Since the whole vaccine order won't be available immediately, those in the priority groups will be encouraged to access the first seven to 10 million doses that should roll out by the third week of October to mid-November at the latest.

High Priority Groups Include:

  • People with chronic medical conditions under the age of 65.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Children six months of age to under five years of age.
  • People living in remote and isolated settings or communities.
  • Health-care workers involved in pandemic response or who deliver essential health services.
  • Household contacts and caregivers of individuals who are at high risk, and who cannot be immunized (such as infants under six months of age or people with weakened immune systems).

*Don’t forget to check back regularly for updated H1N1 updates and important information.