• Information Date
  • Presented To
    Press Conference
  • Speaker(s)
    Amanda Edens
  • Status
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Amanda Edens, Deputy Director, Directorate of Standards and Guidance, OSHA

OSHA Pandemic Flu rollout: February 6, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Foulke. Good Afternoon Everyone.

The guidance document that OSHA is releasing today is intended to help employers and employees prepare for a potential influenza pandemic. The document addresses a number of topics including the differences between seasonal, avian and pandemic influenza; how influenza is transmitted; and guidance on to help employers determine appropriate work practices and precautions.

Season influenza is the regular periodic outbreak of respiratory illness that occurs in the fall and winger in the United sates. Most people have some immunity to seasonal influenza and there are seasonal vaccines prepared in advance to match the influenza staring likely to be circulating that year.

Avian influenza is a virus that infects primarily wild birds and domestic poultry. The current H5N1 avian influenza viruses that are circulating in Asia, Europe, and part so Africa are not easily transmitted between birds and people. However, when people are infected, they become severely ill and frequently die. Scientists are concerned that the H5N1 virus could change and gain the ability to spread easily between people and begin a pandemic.

A pandemic is worldwide outbreak of a new strain of influenza that spreads easily between people who do not have any natural immunity. It is important to emphasize that there is currently no influenza pandemic. However, pandemics have occurred throughout history and many scientists believe it is only a matter of time before another one occurs.

Unlike natural disasters or terrorist events, an influenza pandemic will be widespread, affecting many areas of the United States and other countries at the same time. A pandemic will occur with multiple waves, each lasting 6 to 8 weeks, over a period of a year or more.

During a pandemic, workplaces will experience high absenteeism ¿ as many as 40 percent of the workforce. There will be changes in patterns or commerce as demand for some goods and services increase or decreases. Business can also expect interruptions in supply and delivery chains as the pandemic affects international interstate commerce.

We urge employers to begin pandemic planning activities now to reduce the impact o their business operation, employees, and customers.

OSHA¿s guidance document explains in some detail how influenza is spread. Basically, scientists believe that the virus is spread primarily when infected people cough, sneeze or talk, sending large, infectious droplets and sprays into he air and into contact with other people. To a lesser degree, human influenza is spread by touching objects contaminated with influenza viruses and then transferring the infected material from the hands to the nose, mouth, or eyes. Airborne transmission may also play a role.

Employee risks of occupational exposure to pandemic influenza may vary, depending in part, on whether or not jobs put them near people possibly infected with the virus, or in contact with sources of the virus. OSHA has developed 4 risk categories based on the risk of exposure and gives guidance on the types of controls or practices that may be appropriate for each category. Those four categories are very high, high, medium and lower.

People in very high exposure risk occupations are those that have exposure to high concentrations of know or suspected sources of pandemic influenza and include healthcare employees performing certain specific medical or laboratory procedures, such as inducing coughs, conducting bronchoscopies, or collecting invasive specimens.

The next lower level ¿ the high exposure risk occupation , are those that have ah8igh potential or exposure to know or suspected sources of pandemic influenza virus ¿ includes doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff who must enter patients¿ rooms, and people involved in medical transport of pandemic patients in enclosed vehicles.

Work environments with medium exposure risk occupation are those that have frequent close contact with the general population (i.e., within 6 feet) and include: schools, high density workplaces, and high-volume retail operations.

Lower exposure risk occupations are those that do not require contact with people know to be infected with the pandemic virus, and do not have frequent close contact with the public. Most work environments will fall into the lower exposure risk category

However, even at lower risk levels, employers should be cautious. They should develop plans to minimize employee infections and to limit the impact of an influenza pandemic. We encourage employers to learn about relevant federal, state, and local pandemic planning activities. Employers should also plan to operate with a reduced workforce and talk with suppliers to ensure that they can continue workforce and talks with suppliers to ensure that they can continue business during a pandemic. Employers should cross-train at least three employees to sustain essential business positions.

One of the most important things employers can do is find ways to promote social distancing. Where possible, they should develop policies and practices that distance employees form each other as well as the public. Proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and worksite cleanliness are also important. Additionally, policies that promote working from home, where possible, and developing a sick leave policy that encourages sick employees to remain at home will be beneficial.

OSHA¿s guidance also describes how employers can use a ¿hierarchy of controls¿ to reduce exposure to pandemic influenza. At the top of this hierarchy are work practices and engineering controls and administrative controls. Work practice and engineering controls change the way work is done or make physical changes to the work site, such as installing sneeze guards or adding a drive-through window.

Administrative controls involve limiting employees¿ exposure by changing the scheduling of their work tasks, such as expanding web-based commerce and using home

delivery of goods in order to reduce the number of customers who must enter the workplace.

Finally, when other measures are not sufficient to eliminate or control exposure risk, personal protective equipment many be necessary.

Personal protective equipment can included respirators, surgical masks, face shields, or gloves. In OSHA¿s guidance document, we provide guidance on the differences between surgical masks and respirators and the circumstances when they may be appropriate.

The guidance document we have developed should help employers and employees think in general terms about pandemic flu preparedness. We further encourage employers and employees to work together to develop a detailed business continuity plan that makes sense for their specific business and their work environment.

Thank you for your attention. At this point we would like to take your questions.