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Consider a scenario when half your

23 January 2013

While to date the effects of Swine Flu seem to have been less severe than some feared, its threat raised questions over how well prepared UK Plc is for a serious pandemic, Mark Cosh offers some advice on reducing the impac

While to date the effects of Swine Flu seem to have been less severe than some feared, its threat raised questions over how well prepared UK Plc is for a serious pandemic, Mark Cosh offers some advice on reducing the impact of illnesses such as Swine Flu in the workplace

Consider a scenario when half your staff are ill at home and the rest won't come near the place for fear of being infected? What about when customers, knowing that you have staff ill with flu, refuse to set up appointments with your sales people or have contact with your delivery drivers? Businesses can no longer afford to ignore the threat of pandemic flu and need to act to create a clearly defined policy to reduce its potential impact and to define a management structure to put the policy into practice.

First steps The CEO should be designated immediately, before infection strikes, as the organisation's pandemic co-ordinator and should set up and train a pandemic response team which will: Draft a flu plan to limit damage caused to the company Maintain the team's awareness of global developments in flu Develop training and awareness materials for the business Ensure that links are maintained with suppliers and customers in planning for pandemic flu While the pandemic plan is being created, the response team should begin, without delay, and without waiting for flu to take hold, get staff together and establish an asepsis regime. Even without serious flu, this will dramatically reduce cross-infection of colds, seasonal flu and tummy bugs, and will reduce absence.

Make it a rule that: Everyone washes their hands in soap and water (not just alcohol scrub) when they arrive and every time they move from one area to another, reenter the premises after going out or visit the lavatory Every time someone coughs or sneezes, they must dispose of the tissue into a polythene bag or by flushing it down the lavatory - and must wash their hands immediately Desk surfaces, phones, chairs, door handles, security keypads and lift controls must be disinfected every evening. Supply disinfectant wipes to everybody Anyone showing signs of flu must go home and stay there, and their desk, work station and any equipment they use must be disinfected immediately Will that stop people in your company being infected? No. But it will reduce cross infection at work and keep new cases to a minimum.

And when infections acquired outside hit the staff? Step up the asepsis regime as in your swine flu plan Reconfigure work-site layouts so employees work at least one metre from colleagues Avoid shared use of telephones and mobiles Avoid face-to-face meetings - use telephone and email Where meetings are unavoidable, meet only in large rooms and stay one metre apart Avoid crowded/heavily populated places Avoid busy periods on public transport Arrange dedicated transport to/from work for essential workers.

Establish flexible working policies that enable line managers to agree homeworking, different shift patterns, or relocation to a site more local to the employee's home If infection is rife, consider having a disinfecting vaporisaton.

SitexOrbis's vaporisation infection control, for example, uses a recently developed antibacterial agent that has been proved to eliminate the swine flu virus. Tested both in the laboratory and in practical use, the agent is of proven biological efficacy and kills 99.9999% of all known viruses and bacteria, including salmonella, MRSA, Clostridium Difficile, SARS, Listeria, avian flu and H1N1 influenza A type viruses, both airborne and on surfaces, in minutes. It has no detrimental effect on staff, customers or animals.

Disinfecting vaporisation can be carried out in the evening or early morning to minimise disruption - but even done during the working day needs staff out of the building only for about an hour.

Paperwork, stock and office or factory equipment will be safe and undamaged by the process.

Keep up the asepsis With disinfection complete, strict asepsis must be maintained by everyone.

Logically, if your company is the safest place around, other places are less safe.

You must protect your work environment from infection brought in from outside.

Ensure that staff know they must not come to work with cold or flu symptoms.

Put signs in entrance doors telling visitors not to enter if they feel unwell. Include the main entrance to your building, the door fittings and the reception furniture in the daily asepsis routine.

Mark Cosh is european director of SitexOrbis