Corporate health adviser’s recommendations on swine flu

Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog wondered why the ACT OHS Commissioner referenced a commercial website instead of a government authority.  The commercial website was www.fluthreat.com operated by HSA Group which since early April 2009 is part of Medibank Private.

Fluthreat.com.au provides information on its Flu At Work page that is very flimsy and seems to be  intended to generate further enquiries to its commercial advisory service.  We’re not comfortable with that or the lack of badging from the parent company but…….

SafetyAtWorkBlog put some questions to HSA Group/Medibank and received the following responses from their media advisor over a week later.  We could be picky but we have decided to let the responses speak for themselves.

The questions were based on the bulletpoints listed on the Flu At Work page in order to flesh out the advice to a more practical level.

What does HSA Group recommend for basic personal respiratory hygiene methods?

HSA’s fluthreat website covers basic respiratory hygiene considerations.  Personal habits that we all should adopt include covering mouths when coughing and sneezing, using tissues and disposing of them properly, and regularly washing of hands.

In this time of swine flu, is the old way of throwing tissues in a waste basket no longer the right option?

Using a waste basket is fine.  The important thing is the waste is disposed of appropriately, and the waste basket does not require excessive handling in the disposal process.

Handwipes and gel have issues of their own – should they be applied after handwashing or instead of, should they be used after each sneeze or cough? What does HSA recommend?

Considerations of personal  hygiene should be a regular occurrence – not just simply after each sneeze or  cough.  Handwipes and gels are for occasions when you can’t wash your hands – it is not necessary to use both.  Handwipes and gels should be alcohol based, which has been shown to be effective in killing influenza type viruses.

Regarding adequate cleaning of surfaces and equipment, should this be undertaken by the users of the equipment or should cleaning contractors be contacted in order to upgrade their processes?

Unfortunately there is no one simple answer to this question.  Every business operates differently, and therefore will require a different response to a pandemic.  We encourage all businesses to have a pandemic plan, which will guide the business wide response.

Certainly cleaning of surfaces and equipment should be considered in the context of an organisation’s pandemic plan, and may include having staff take additional care for hygiene and cleaning, or having cleaning contractors upgrade their processes.  The appropriateness of such considerations are linked to the pandemic phase & an organisation’s response strategy in the context of their pandemic plan.

Regarding telephones, which are the closest item most office workers have to their mouths, years ago there were phone cleaners who  physically came to the office to clean and disinfect  handsets. Would HSA recommend this service be reinstated?

These services are still available for businesses who want them.  Alternatively staff can be trained to do it themselves with alcohol based wipes.  Again the specific needs of businesses will vary, and cleaning of telephone handsets should be set out in the pandemic plan.

In a closed environment, such as an office, where possible, should ventilation be increased by opening a window?  Some office buildings turn off they ventilation overnight even when nightshift workers are in the building.  Does HSA believe that nightshift workers could be at increased risk of contracting influenza?

Ventilation is important in workplaces, and not just due to swine flu. Where windows can be opened without affecting the air-conditioning flow this will help with ventilation. Air conditioning should remain on if people are present in the building.  However there is no evidence that nightshift workers are at an increased risk of contracting influenza – it is the behaviour of workers and their levels of personal hygiene that are the strongest influence on this.

Regarding encouraging sick persons to stay at home, why only “encourage”, when  employers have the legislative obligation to not place their employees at risk? What if the employee has shown no symptoms of influenza but may be infectious due to contact with a family member who is sick?

Employers should have policies in place that articulate how staff should  behave in such circumstances, and ideally a plan that covers pandemics specifically.  There is only a very small risk of people being infectious prior to symptoms appearing.

Sending workers home after the illness has appeared is an acknowledgement that illness is already present in the workplace.  In this instance, what would HSA advise the employer to do?

Employers should continue to activate their pandemic plan, which will trigger workplace specific staff communications and contingency plans.

Does HSA recommend the wearing of facemasks as a suitable control measure for anyone who may come to work sneezing (for whatever reason)?

Facemasks can be very helpful in controlling the spread of respiratory diseases.  However it should be noted that a sneeze does not necessarily equate to H1N1 or seasonal influenza.  A diagnosis of suspected H1N1 or seasonal influenza requires consideration of a number of other factors.

Regardless of the further information from HSA Group/Medibank, SafetyAtWorkBlog still recommends that the best advice is available from the relevant health authorities in your State or country.

Kevin Jones

Categories business, chemicals, guidance, health, OHS, safety, Uncategorized, wellness, workplaceTags , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Corporate health adviser’s recommendations on swine flu”

  1. Hi

    I am a small contractor employing 3 people, what can I do to safegaurd them or what precautions should I be taking in order a proactive lead in the threat of the Pandemic

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