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H1N1 Occupational Health and Safety

Influenza is a viral respiratory illness that causes fever and cough with sore throat, headache, or muscle aches.

The current H1N1 Influenza is a new type of influenza strain, but it is suspected that it is spread the same way as previous strains of seasonal influenza: by breathing in infected droplets when you are close to someone sneezing or coughing, and by contact with something recently contaminated (shaking hands, for example).

What are employers' responsibilities?
Employers, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, are responsible to take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their employees in their workplaces.

This includes developing and implementing measures to minimize risks, in consultation with occupational health committees, representatives or workers where there are no committees or representatives.

Employers should monitor the information about H1N1 Influenza that is being released by health agencies and provide their employees with:
- up-to-date hazard information training on safe work practices, and
-recommended supplies such as disinfectants
-Occupational Health and Safety Regulations such as Sections 85 and 302 include more specific responsibilities related to infectious hazards in the workplace.
-Employers can find hazard and other information from the websites listed in the Related Links section below.

As well, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has tools and resources to assist workplaces in developing a pandemic plan.

Some basic precautions for protecting your workers and yourself are available below.

If you would like further guidance regarding your obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, feel free to contact Occupational Health and Safety at 1-800-567-7233.

How can influenza be prevented in the occupational settings?
Hand hygiene

-Wash hands after direct contact with individuals.
-Wash hands for 15 seconds using soap, friction and warm running water for 15 seconds.
-Ensure areas for hand washing are kept well supplied.
-If unable to wash hands immediately use an alcohol-based hand gel.
-Cough and sneeze hygiene

Cover the nose and mouth with tissue when sneezing and coughing.
-Use disposable one-use tissues.
-If no tissue use sleeve or arm.
-Be sure to wash hands or use hand gel after coughing, sneezing or using tissues and encourage children to do the same.
-Influenza can spread from hand to eye and nose contact - avoid touching these areas.
-Wearing a mask is not a necessary measure at this time.
-The influenza vaccine available this season will not protect against H1N1 Influenza.

What kind of cleaning can help prevent influenza?
Viruses can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours. Develop a facility routine for cleaning surfaces:

-Hard surfaces that are touched frequently should be cleansed at least daily and when obviously soiled using an approved disinfecting solution as per manufacturers instructions.
-Approved disinfecting solutions include: household bleach; NaDCC (Sodium dichloroisocyanurate); or, Chloramine-T powder with 25% available chlorine.
-Ensure gloves and protective clothing are used while cleaning to avoid exposing body or clothing.
-There is no special handling requirement for soiled laundry.
-Handle all waste materials with usual precautions. Line or double line waste baskets and dispose daily.

How should a workplace respond to staff or clients with influenza like symptoms?
-As is necessary with any respiratory illness, staff that develop a fever and cough should be requested to stay home until symptoms resolve. If the employee is ill enough, a personal health care provider should evaluate.
-Distance provides protection, so keeping some distance between staff and a coughing client and turning away while the client is coughing will decrease the risk of transmission.

When should a workplace setting notify public health?
When there is an unusual number of sick staff at your workplace, contact your Regional Health Authority.

Are workplace settings to be closed?
There is no recommendation to close workplaces in Saskatchewan. The Ministry of Health will continue to reassess this as they monitor risk and transmission patterns.

Related Links:
Saskatchewan Ministry of Health
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

World Health Organization
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

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