U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA Unveils New Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for Influenza Pandemic

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has unveiled new workplace safety and health guidance that will help employers prepare for an influenza pandemic.

Developed in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemicprovides general guidance for all types of workplaces, describes the differences between seasonal, avian and pandemic influenza, and presents information on the nature of a potential pandemic, how the virus is likely to spread and how exposure is likely to occur.

To help employers determine appropriate workplace practices and precautions, the guidance divides workplaces and work operations into four risk zones, according to the likelihood of employees’ occupational exposure to pandemic influenza. Recommendations for employee protection are presented for each of the four levels of anticipated risk and include engineering controls, work practices and use of personal protective equipment such as respirators and surgical masks and their relative value in protecting employees.

The Labor Department/HHS guidance also encourages employers to prepare a plan to deal with a depleted workforce during a pandemic. In addition, the guidance includes links to helpful Web sites with additional information and a list of technical articles and resources, including a history on flu pandemics, symptoms and outcomes of various strains of the influenza, and details on the transmission of the virus.

It is important to note that workplace safety and health guidance may evolve and change over time as new information becomes available. For instance, the characteristics of the specific strain of influenza virus ultimately responsible for the pandemic may affect the way in which the disease is spread and therefore additional guidance would be tailored to that information. Up-to-date information and guidance is available to employers, employees and the general public through www.pandemicflu.gov, the federal government’s Web site for information regarding pandemic flu.