The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has today (Friday 15 June 2007) published advice for employers and unions on how workplaces could best prepare for a possible outbreak of pandemic flu within the UK.
The TUC guide warns of the possibility that employers could fall victim to “snake-oil” salesmen, as happened during the recent SARS outbreak, and urges employers not to panic or stockpile products that could have no impact on the spread of the virus.
Although no-one knows when an outbreak could occur in the UK, the TUC shares the view of the government that it is important for employers to prepare for any pandemic, if and when it occurs.
Given the worst case scenario that up to 50% of the population could become ill over a period of three to six months with as many as 750,000 deaths as a result, any outbreak could have a massive affect on UK workplaces.
The TUC advice calls on employers to start preparing now and develop a contingency plan for dealing with an outbreak that could disrupt transport, supplies, banking, the internet and see up to 50% of the workforce absent at any one time. With schools likely to close for example, many working parents would be unable to come into work.
The TUC wants to see employers develop plans for working from home, dealing with sickness absence, and encouraging better personal hygiene at work.
Commenting on the report, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “Unions are already telling us of sales companies phoning up employers offering to supply antiviral medication to their staff in the event of an outbreak. Others are trying to sell supplies of latex gloves or disposable facemasks on the back of the pandemic flu threat. It is important that employers don’t panic, but put sensible plans in place.
“There is also no evidence that the use of latex gloves or disposable masks 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 anti-viral medication.
“An influenza pandemic could happen at any time. Just because the summer months are approaching, there’s no reason why employers shouldn’t be thinking now about how they can plan for the future.”
Instead the TUC guide recommends that employers seek advice from the Department of Health on what they can do to prepare for a pandemic.