Advice for employers on how workplaces could best prepare for a possible outbreak of pandemic flu within the UK has been published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
The TUC guidance urges employers not to panic or stockpile products that could have no impact on the spread of the virus, and instead suggests employers should be working on contingency plans for dealing with a situation where hundreds of thousands of people could be affected.
Companies are advised not to buy in stocks of drugs like Tamiflu or Relenza, as these antivirals are intended for people who are in the early stages of the virus, and the TUC says that giving them in advance won’t prevent people who may be exposed to the flu virus in a few weeks or months’ time from falling ill in future.
The TUC says a flu outbreak could disrupt transport, supplies, banking and communication systems, and see up to half the workforce absent at any one time. And with schools likely to close, many working parents would also be unable to come into work.
The Union body recommends that employers should put in place more effective systems for dealing with sickness absence and encourage better personal hygiene at work.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “The current signs are that the outbreak of flu may be spreading quickly but initial indications seem to be that the strain that has been carried to Europe is milder than was first feared. This could of course change as the virus mutates.
“There is no reason for employers to take panic measures when simple good hygiene and encouraging staff who are sick to stay at home is the best immediate response.
“Rather than buying up supplies of anti-viral medication to give to their staff or stockpiling supplies of latex gloves and disposable facemasks, employers should be concentrating on putting sensible plans in place.
He added: “There is no evidence that the use of latex gloves or facemasks in most workplace situations would have any effect on the spread of the virus, and it is likely that people might feel that if they wear such protection they can come into work even if they are ill. This could lead to an increased risk.
“If large companies buy up stocks of antivirals simply to keep their staff at work during an outbreak, this could have serious implications for the treatment of people who actually get ill and really need antiviral medication.”
In separate guidance last week, a GP and family health broadcaster advised five steps everyone should be taking to improve their hygiene.
Dr Carol Cooper, GP and Tutor at Imperial College Medical School, gave the following advice:
- Wash your hands regularly and make sure your towels are clean. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use one of the alcohol-based hand cleaners that are on the market.
- Most of us touch our nose and mouth much more than we realise, particularly when we’re talking and when we’re just thinking. Try to make a conscious effort not to.
- Most flu and cold viruses enter our body through our noses. If you take care of your nose you can increase your immune defences and reduce your susceptibility. Keep your nose healthy and clean by using a natural nasal spray. With a clear nose there is also less chance of nasal secretions being sniffed into the back of the throat.
- Keep all surfaces clean, particularly handles and light switches. Germs can linger for a long time. It’s easy to miss surfaces that are touched regularly if they don’t look dirty.
- If you cough or sneeze, use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth, not your hand, as when you touch other surfaces you’ll transfer your germs. Always carry tissues with you so you have them to hand.
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