A pandemic is a global disease outbreak of a new influenza A virus. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population; begins to cause serious illness; and then spreads easily person-to-person worldwide.
What are the hazards associated with pandemic flu?
Because of the scope of the outbreak, transmission can be anticipated in the workplace, not only in health care settings from patient to workers, but also among co-workers in general work settings. A pandemic would cause high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss. The number of deaths due to a pandemic flu outbreak would be expected to be high as compared to seasonal flu.
What can I do to protect myself?
The best approach towards reducing the risk of becoming ill with pandemic influenza is to avoid crowded settings and other situations that increase the risk of exposure to someone who may be infected. If you must be in a crowded setting, keep the amount of time you must remain there at a minimum.
Some basic hygiene and social distancing precautions that can be used in every workplace include, but are not limited to:
Stay home if you are sick.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds or with a hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve. Dispose of tissues in no-touch trash receptacles.
Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
Avoid shaking hands and always wash your hands after physical contact with others.
If wearing gloves, always wash your hands after removing them.
Keep frequently touched common surfaces (for example, telephones, computer equipment, etc.) clean.
Avoid using other workers' phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment.
Minimize group meetings; use e-mails, phones and text messaging. If meetings are unavoidable, avoid close contact (within 6 feet) with others and ensure that the meeting room is properly ventilated.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle; attention to rest, diet, exercise and relaxation helps maintain physical and emotional health.
What resources are available to assist employers?
Safety and Health Programs
An example respirator program and PPE hazard assessment forms are available and can be customized to fit workplace conditions. Employers are required to perform a workplace hazard analysis to determine what personal protective equipment is necessary to protect employees from continued exposure to identified hazards.
Training and Outreach Services
Presentations on personal protective equipment and respiratory protection for general industry and construction provide general safety and health information on personal protective equipment and should be modified to address site-specific conditions and hazards.
In addition, the education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request.
Lastly, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including streaming video services) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).
A-Z Topics Page
The consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.
Which standards apply?
There are no specific OSH standards for pandemic flu; however, the following standards can be applied. Note: Please also check the standards information and activity webpage to see if there has been any recent or upcoming regulatory activity on this topic.
- 29 CFR 1910.132 - personal protective equipment, general requirements
- 29 CFR 1910.133 - eye and face protection
- 29 CFR 1910.134 - respiratory protection
- 29 CFR 1910.138 - hand protection
General Duty Clause
Additionally, N.C. General Statute 95-129(1), commonly referred to as the General Duty Clause, may be applied for recognized serious hazards not covered by a specific NCDOL standard.
Other Applicable Standards
The Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can also help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.
Where can I learn more?
Industry Guide 49 - OSHA General Industry Standards Requiring Programs, Inspections, Procedures, Records and/or Training provides requirements for standards related to pandemic flu exposure in general industry.
If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 919-707-7876.