Employers should take note of the latest Indiana OSHA alert. It addresses the potential of an influenza pandemic, a threat that many of us don’t consider serious.
An influenza pandemic is very different from the common flu that many of us know about. The common flu is typically a seasonal sickness with an outbreak that’s limited. It’s usually only fatal to infants, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. For healthy adults, it’s an unpleasant and uncomfortable experience, but not life threatening.
According to the OSHA, one of the greatest concerns regarding a flu pandemic is the avian influenza. It’s a disease that occurs in wild birds and can spread to domestic chickens, turkeys or other birds. There are different varieties and some are more severe than others. On variety of the bird flu can sometimes be transmitted from infected birds to humans because it has mutated. A mutated bird flu virus could cause a pandemic.
This is a typical cause of a pandemic. Flu pandemics are caused when a unique form of the virus emerges that no one has had a chance to become immune to. Because the virus is new, it may take months for a vaccine to be developed. During this time, the virus continues to spread from person to person possibly killing millions all over the world.
This is what happened in 1957 when a flu pandemic killed 1 million people all over the world. This pandemic was quickly contained, unlike the Spanish Flu of 1918. The Spanish Flu killed millions of people. In the first 25 weeks alone, 25 million people died. The AIDS virus, which receives much exposure in the media, has killed the same amount of people in 25 years.
When the Spanish Flu ran its course, 20% of the world’s population contracted the virus. Up to 5% (but not less than 2.5%) of the world’s population died from the disease often within hours of contracting it.
There is no pandemic at this time because no new version of the influenza virus currently exists.
Whether you’re an employee or an employer, you should be aware of the emergency plans at your workplace. According to a recent OSHA alert, that should include a plan for a worldwide influenza pandemic.
When we mention influenza, or “flu” as it’s more commonly called, we usually think of an annoying but not life-threatening seasonal ailment. This is seasonal flu. While seasonal flu can pose a serious health hazard for small children, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, it’s normally not fatal to healthy adults. That’s because most of us have, or develop, some immunity to the flu virus.
An influenza pandemic is completely different, according to the Indiana OSHA alert. During a pandemic, a new strain of the flu virus appears. No one has immunity to it, and it is passed quickly from person to person across the world. The last major influenza pandemic occurred between 1918 and 1920. The virus first appeared at a military base in Kansas, but spread rapidly across the globe. The disease was called the “Spanish Flu” because the Spanish press published more stories about it. In other countries, wartime censorship prevented newspapers from publishing stories about the flu. More than 50 million people died within 18 months. Many of them were healthy young adults who died within days of contracting the disease. According to OSHA, a pandemic could disrupt the global economy more than any single terrorist attack.
It’s important to note that no new strain of the influenza virus has emerged, and there is currently no flu pandemic. The seasonal flu that occurs every year during the fall and winter is not a major threat.
What are the best precautions to use during a pandemic? Some common sense tips are similar to those we use today, when facing a cold or the seasonal flu. They include:
Washing hands frequently and using hand sanitizer
Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, especially with a disposable tissue
Staying at least 6 ft. away from infected people
Staying home from work or school when you are ill
In addition, businesses can minimize the spread of disease by reducing the contact between coworkers. Conference calls can be scheduled instead of meetings, for example. Some employees may be able to work from home. In other cases, businesses may opt to install drive-thru windows or other barriers between employees and the public.
Regardless of which state you live in, by law there should be an OSHA 300 form posted at your place of employment. This unglamorous little poster actually serves a great purpose. It lists all the accidents, injuries and work-related illnesses in the past year. The goal is to prevent future injures.
Under state law, each employer is required to post an Indiana OSHA 300 form from February 1 to April 30 of each year. The 2007 OSHA 300 form recaps work-related illnesses and injuries that occurred at the company in the 2006 calendar year.
Indiana is one of 22 states that have opted out of the federal OSHA program. Instead, the state has its own worker safety organization, INOSHA or Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In general, INOSHA policies mirror those of the federal OSHA, although there are some differences. The following states have approved state OSHA plans: Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
How do you know you are protected under a state OSHA plan? Under federal regulations, each state OSHA plan must have job safety and health standards that are “at least as effective as” comparable federal OSHA standards. So, as a worker you know that you’re safe under a state plan. Most states adopt standards identical to federal ones, so there isn’t a huge difference. However, some states including California have exercised the option to promulgate standards covering hazards not addressed by the federal OSHA standards.
You may be as surprised as I was to learn that three states have state OSHA plans that cover state and local government employees only. These states are Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, plus the Virgin Islands, which is technically not a state.
In those states, businesses, federal agencies, and non-profit organizations are covered by the federal OSHA. Several states, including Kansas, once had state OSHA plans but now fall under federal OSHA jurisdiction.
A new federal program is aimed at training workers in just 3 states – including Indiana. Indiana’s unemployed workers will get a lift under a recently announced pilot program. Under the new program, individual unemployed workers will be eligible for accounts worth $3,000, renewable for one year, for a total of $6,000. The workers can use the grant money for any type of career training or education that they choose. The Career Advancement Account (CAA) is a pilot project of the state of Indiana in collaboration with the U.S. Dept. of Labor.
While five states including Georgia and Michigan are making the CAA program available to displaced autoworkers, only three states including Indiana have made it available to all unemployed workers. Between 2,500 and 4,000 workers could potentially take advantage of CAAs. Indiana will be eligible for grants of $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Labor, provided the state comes up with $1.5 million in matching funds.
U.S. Secretary Elaine Chao was optimistic when announcing the Indiana unemployment grant, “Career Advancement Accounts empower workers to access the education and skills training they need to take advantage of new career opportunities in high growth sectors of America’s 21st century economy.”
According to a number of surveys, there will be high demand by 2014 for skilled labor in a number of industries, including healthcare, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, energy, and transportation. Indiana is one of three states that volunteered to test the program to help workers get needed education and training. These Career Advancement Accounts (CAAs) can be used by displaced or current workers to pay for expenses directly related to improving their job skills, such as tuition, books and fees. In the healthcare industry alone, 8 of the 20 fastest-growing jobs can be found.
“Education is America’s great equalizer, and Career Advancement Accounts are like Pell Grants for workers — opening opportunities to increase their skills and equipping them for the competitive global economy,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Emily Stover DeRocco.
Indiana employers may want to perk up at recent news emanating out of the Indiana Department of Labor. The department recently teamed up with Risk Management Services, which is a top risk management consulting firm, especially for the construction business. What exactly is risk management? Well, think about all of the bad things that could happen to your business in the next year, from a tornado hit to a slip and fall in your warehouse, from a fire in your assembly plant to a product liability suit brought on by one of your customers.
Now think of all the ways to prevent those events from happening, or if that proves impossible such as with the tornado), think of all the ways that you could make sure that your business survives should the risk happen. That is a simple way, but very accurate, to explain how risk management works.
Still a bit confused? That’s where this news out of the Department of Labor comes in. The Indiana Department of Labor and Risk Management Services are joining together to allow Risk Management Services to provide training “scholarships” to Indiana businesses, to allow them to attend some of the best construction industry risk management and safety programs out there.
These scholarships will be fully funded, and especially geared toward small businesses, who normally might not be able to afford such risk management consultation and training. The average size of the average being aimed for here is 250 people and less. Some of the courses involved will include the 10-hour OSHA course that I mentioned earlier, which can get any employer in line and fully in gear with the latest OSHA labor laws in Indiana, as well as courses for “competent person” instruction and even courses in Spanish. Contact the INSafe division of the Department of Labor for more info.