For some plant professionals, last spring’s H1N1 influenza outbreak provided an opportunity to fine tune existing emergency plans, while others received a much needed wake up call. Whatever the case, businesses should be taking full advantage of the “extra time” they have to prepare in advance of the full-scale pandemic expected to hit this fall.
In June 2009, the World Health Organization raised the pandemic alert level to Phase 6, signaling the start of a worldwide influenza pandemic, and declared further spread of the H1N1 virus to be “inevitable.” There were 177,477 laboratory cases confirmed across 170 countries and the number continues to grow.
What does the predicted resurgence of the virus mean for the modern-day plant? A full-scale pandemic can put a strain on productivity goals, employee health and wellness and ultimately the bottom-line of the business. As with anything in your facility, it pays to be prepared in advance. The following are items to consider as you evaluate your readiness.
Develop a plan early
In developing a pandemic plan, the first step is to identify the key components that should be incorporated. This would include things like identifying and ordering an inventory of products that protect employees against infection, developing an ongoing communications plan for employees and customers and being poised and ready to activate your business continuity plan in the event of high absenteeism across the company.
Skyworks Solutions, Inc., an innovator of high performance analog and mixed signal semiconductors headquartered in Woburn, MA, developed such a plan.
Before the H1N1 outbreak, the move to “touch-free” restrooms was driven by Skyworks’ need to reduce the costs associated with water use, restroom consumables and general hygiene. In the summer of 2008, the Skyworks facility in Newbury Park, CA had an opportunity to expand the touch-free capabilities in its restrooms. Skyworks recognized the value of improving the overall hygiene on the site by converting to touch-free alternatives including soap, towel and hand sanitizer dispensers and asked facilities director Jeff Frye and safety manager Brian Shaughnessy to lead this effort.
“We are a 24/7 operation with manufacturing operators working 12-hour shifts,” said Frye. “We recognize the need to keep our employees healthy, keep our manufacturing areas appropriately staffed and meet daily production goals. Our plan addresses all of these areas.”
Then in the spring of 2009, Frye and Shaughnessy were tasked as part of a corporate team to prepare an employee health and general wellness plan before H1N1 became an issue. Skyworks initiated this effort in order to protect the welfare of employees and to prevent the disruption of deliveries to customers.
Skyworks leveraged relationships with its maintenance repair and operating partners as they developed their plan.
The basis of the plan revolved around keeping the plant running efficiently, even in times of potential high absenteeism. Frye met with Grainger to discuss best industry practices and new technology to help with maintaining productivity goals. The plan outlined the need for an in-house focus on hand hygiene. They felt that implementing a touch-free campus was the key to achieving their goal.
To enhance acceptance of the plan, educational information on hand hygiene was distributed to all employees along with a small personal bottle of hand sanitizer.
“Employee feedback has been positive,” said Shaughnessy. “The sanitizers are distributed in highly visible areas to encourage use. A simple wave of the hand as you are walking by is easy and takes so little effort. On many occasions, I’ve witnessed the use of the sanitizer in meetings where employees are gathered around a conference table with a sanitizer dispenser placed in the middle of the table. They use it because it’s there. It quickly became part of our culture.”
The continuing education about hygiene is important. “While we can’t control what happens when employees leave the plant, we encourage them to utilize the same practices away from work,” said Shaughnessy.
If your facility manufactures delicate, sensitive electronic equipment, you probably have a clean room environment. Skyworks personnel must follow strict cleanroom protocol procedures. These procedures may require full cleanroom suits, gloves and head and mouth covering. The combination of cleanroom protocol, laminar air flow and HEPA filtration of the cleanroom air makes it virtually impossible to spread influenza in these manufacturing areas. As such, efforts to reduce the risk of exposure to pandemic influenza are focused in the areas outside the manufacturing cleanrooms, where germs are more likely to spread.
For the upcoming fall flu season, Skyworks is looking to make a few updates to its plan. The company is considering adding germicidal lamps for their HVAC ductwork to control bacteria. In addition, they have added dry contact sanitizing spray for all of their keyboards. “Whenever possible we use Green Seal certified products,” said Frye. “We try to be as green-minded as we can while still providing protection for our employees.”
Be prepared, act quickly
Unlike other threats and disasters, a pandemic will affect everyone, everywhere, concurrently. Its impact on the global business and investment community threatens the survival and recovery of every organization. Proper disaster planning requires that an organization predict the vulnerability, plan the response and respond quickly when the event occurs.
What are the questions that plant leadership must consider? The first question you must ask is: when do you activate your Business Continuity and Pandemic Plans? All communicable illness plans require triggers so that when certain events occur %%MDASSML%% either globally, regionally or within your specific locale %%MDASSML%% decisions must be made quickly and plans implemented in a timely fashion. The people responsible for identifying those triggers need to have appropriate training and authority. Once a trigger point has been realized, it will be important for plant leaders to enforce any new procedure that might be required by your communicable illness policy.
For example, vendor and visitor entry policies will have to change significantly. Your employees need to understand these new rules and be educated and trained to implement them as necessary. These new requirements may include asking vendors and visitors to fill out travel forms indicating where they’ve traveled in the past three months prior to face-to-face meetings with staff. It may require asking them to wear a mask, and/or limiting their presence to a single room.
As part of your communicable illness plans, cleaning and hygiene protocols and products for your location need to be determined in advance. Cleaning products, masks, gloves and other items will need to be stockpiled prior to the implementation of any plan. Normally, these supplies are easily purchased. However, when you find yourself in a full blown pandemic, these items become difficult to source. Inventories are rapidly depleted by government First Responder groups.
While some of these procedures and protocols may sound ominous and alarming, the training and education that your employees receive prior to the outbreak will determine how your communications are received. The time to educate employees, vendors and critical suppliers is now %%MDASSML%% before your plan is implemented. It is important that you understand the physical, emotional and financial impacts that a major health crisis could have on your organization. In addition to the normal health care needs of your employees, it is possible that many employees will not be able to return to work because they are caring for a sick spouse or child. Additionally, those who are not sick may choose not to come to work for fear of contact with other workers. Similarly, critical suppliers may face the same challenges. As part of your communicable illness planning process, prior to the outbreak of a major disease, a supply chain analysis with a review of your vendors’ communicable illness planning is essential.
During a pandemic, all aspects of running the business may be strained, including those related to human resources. Self-funded health plans, worker’s compensation insurance, retirement plans, 401(k) and any other type of employee benefit programs, may need to be reviewed with an eye toward the potential surge in demand these plans may encounter.
It is also important to stay connected to any changing conditions in your community during an outbreak. Talk to your employees to make sure they understand that everything is being done to provide a safe, healthy working environment. The trust and confidence that your employees place in you will go a long way in sustaining your business operations during these times.
The biggest lesson that the Skyworks team learned is that you have to be ahead of the game. “If you wait for a pandemic, you are too late,” said Frye. “This isn’t something you should do just for a pandemic. It is what you should be doing for overall employee health.”
|Mamta Bhargarva is vice president of Grainger Industrial Supply-Brand Segments. Grainger, a leading distributor of facilities maintenance supplies, works with it’s customers to help them maintain efficiency and productivity in their operations while also helping them manage the safety and well being of their employees. For resources and additional information on the topic of emergency preparedness and pandemic planning visit|
The pandemic influenza plan: procedures and processes
Skyworks’ Newbury Park facility was prepared when its companywide Pandemic Influenza Plan was announced.
Elements of the plan included:
Create a cross-functional team to implement the Flu Pandemic Plan. The team is comprised of representatives from human resources, facilities, environmental health and safety and Skyworks’ medical oversight provider. The team implements the plan or portions of the plan based on current conditions and affected business units. Team members communicate back to their respective facilities those pandemic flu prevention measures as deemed appropriate by the team. This ensures that the Pandemic Flu Plan implemented across Skyworks is consistent.
Ensure an adequate supply of tissue and hand sanitizer dispensers in all common areas to remind and encourage employees to implement good personal hygiene
Increase facility cleaning, especially commonly touched objects (door handles, etc.)
Implement business travel restrictions as needed
Create essential job identification and staff planning
Communicate the company’s annual flu program. Flu shot clinics are held annually at all major Skyworks facilities, and employees are encouraged to get vaccinated. At locations with few employees, a vaccination voucher is provided to allow those employees to receive vaccinations at a local medical clinic.
Increase employee communications %%MDASSML%% both verbal and written %%MDASSML%% promoting the proper personal hygiene steps and sneeze and cough etiquette to help reduce the risk of exposure to pandemic influenza in the workplace
Display electronic bulletin board signage throughout the facility to remind employees to wash their hands, cover their mouths when sneezing and coughing and to use hand sanitizer often.
Return to work plan
Work closely with the local occupational health clinic and physicians to identify and develop a “return to work” plan. When an employee is identified as having the flu, the employee is not allowed to return to work for at least one week since the onset of symptoms and at least 24 hours with no symptoms, whichever is longer
Create a modified attendance policy with the goal to encourage sick employees to stay home.
Stocking up on products
Based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, these types of supplies may help decrease the spread of the flu:
Touch-free faucets and flush mechanisms in all restrooms
Touch-free soap dispensers with antibacterial soaps in restrooms and break room areas
Touch-free towel dispensers
Touch-free hand sanitizer dispensers in all common workplace areas (break rooms, outside all restrooms and high traffic areas).
Pump bottles of hand sanitizer in all conference, training, reception and administrative areas
Tissue dispensers placed in high traffic areas such as reception, conference rooms, break rooms and administrative areas
Facemasks and respirators.
Disinfectant cleaners and wipes.
Preventing the spread of H1N1
The Centers for Disease Control has put out the following guidelines to help employers prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu virus in the workplace. Links on this page are directly back to the CDC Website, which has a wide variety of materials on the topic.
Spread of this novel influenza A (H1N1) virus is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their eyes, mouth or nose.
What can employers do to protect employees?
Encourage sick workers to stay home and away from the workplace, and provide flexible leave policies
Encourage infection control practices in the workplace by displaying posters that address and remind workers about proper hand washing, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette. These posters can be found on the “Germ Stopper: Posters and Other Materials” page
Provide written guidance (email, etc.) on novel influenza A (H1N1) flu appropriate for the language and literacy levels of everyone in the workplace. Employers should work closely with local and state public health officials to ensure they are providing the most appropriate and up-to-date information (e.g., the CDC H1N1 Flu Website)
Provide sufficient facilities for hand washing and alcohol-based (at least 60%) hand sanitizers (or wipes) in common workplace areas such as lobbies, corridors and restrooms
Provide tissues, disinfectants and disposable towels for employees to clean their work surfaces, as well as appropriate disposal receptacles for use by employees
One study showed that the influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for up to 2-8 hours after being deposited on the surface. To reduce the chance of spread of the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus, disinfect commonly-touched hard surfaces in the workplace such as work stations, counter tops, door knobs and bathroom surfaces by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label.
What can employees do to reduce the spread of novel influenza A (H1N1) flu in the workplace?
Stay home if you are sick. If you have symptoms of an influenza-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities (your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine). Keep away from others as much as possible. This is to keep from making others sick
Employees who are well but who have an ill family member at home with novel H1N1 flu can go to work as usual. These employees should monitor their health every day, notify their supervisor and stay home if they become ill. Employees who have an underlying medical condition or who are pregnant should call their health care provider for advice because they might need to receive influenza antiviral drugs to prevent illness
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it
Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used if soap and water are not available
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way
Avoid close contact with sick people. If an employee suspects that they have been exposed to a sick person with novel H1N1 influenza they may continue to go to work as usual. These employees should monitor their health every day and should notify their supervisor and stay home if they become ill.
What to do when an employee comes to work with influenza-like symptoms in a community where novel influenza A (H1N1) virus is circulating:
Notify the appropriate health center or first aid personnel
Place the employee in a room by him- or herself
If the employee needs to go into a common area, he or she should cover coughs/sneezes with a tissue or wear a facemask if available and tolerable
Notify the employee’s supervisor or employer
Send the employee home as soon as possible
Call for emergency medical services if the ill person develops any of the emergency warning signs. Ensure that the ill employee stays home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities (their fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).
What to do for co-workers of an employee who is a suspected or confirmed case of novel influenza A (H1N1) flu:
Inform the employees of their exposure in the workplace with confirmed, probable or suspected novel H1N1 flu during the ill person’s infectious period. Such disclosure of information should be conducted in accordance with the privacy and confidentiality requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which stipulates that employers are required to keep all employees’ medical information private and confidential
Have the exposed employees monitor themselves for symptoms
Advise employees to check with their health care provider about any special care they might need if they are pregnant or have a chronic health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma or emphysema.
H1N1 from A to Z:
More content is available at
H1N1: An overview:
The Centers for Disease Control put together a list of frequently asked questions about the H1N1 virus and ways you can keep your workplace and home safe this flu season.
Op-Ed piece from government leaders:
The secretaries of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Education wrote an op-ed piece last month to explain how important it is to prepare for the H1N1 virus.
Video: Put your hands together:
Scientists estimate that people are not washing their hands often or well enough, and may transmit up to 80% of all infections by their hands. From doorknobs to animals to food, harmful germs can live on almost everything. Hand washing may be your single most important act to help stop the spread of infection and stay healthy.
Creating a safe and healthy workplace:
This podcast helps businesses understand how novel H1N1 flu can affect their business and how to keep their workers and worksites safe.
Mask and respirator usage:
This podcast answers the question: What should I know about using facemasks or respirators related to the novel H1N1 flu outbreak?