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WASHINGTONEmployers should plan now for an influenza pandemic, according to the head of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"A severe pandemic in our country could have a devastating effect on our nation's" workplaces, said Edwin G. Foulke, the assistant secretary of labor in charge of OSHA. "Proper planning and preparation now saves lives in the future."
His comments came as OSHA released its "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic" on Tuesday.
The guidance divides workplaces into four levels of risk ranging from low to very high based on proximity of workers to infected people. For example, health care facilities that require workers to have direct contact with infected people would fall into the high or very high risk categories, according to the guidance. But most work environments would fall into the low or medium risk category, said OSHA Deputy Director Amanda Edens.
The guidance offers specific recommendations for each risk level as well as some general advice. For example, all employers should encourage sick workers to stay home. Employees should be encouraged to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer, and should avoid using other employees' equipment such as telephones, according to OSHA.
In addition, employers should cross-train at least three employees to carry our critical business functions should a pandemic strike, Ms. Edens said.
"Additional guidance may be needed if an actual pandemic unfolds," Mr. Foulke said.
The guidance is available at www.osha.gov.