Respiratory protection and your pandemic plan

January 11, 2010
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According to OSHA, as employers evaluate their workplace, respirators should be considered for use in occupational settings during an influenza pandemic. Use of these devices during an influenza pandemic is a recommended part of a comprehensive strategy of personal protection.

In a pandemic environment, are your employees protected? Would you be able to operate your business and keep the doors open? Having a pandemic plan will allow your business to stay open and maintain operating business as usual under these circumstances.

Why do I need to plan to protect my workers from a pandemic and stockpile?
An influenza pandemic will be widespread, affecting multiple areas of the United States and other countries at the same time. A pandemic will also be an extended event, with multiple waves of outbreaks in the same geographic area; each outbreak could last six to eight weeks. Waves of outbreaks may occur over a year or more. Your workplace will likely experience:
  • Absenteeism: A pandemic could affect as many as 40 percent of the workforce during periods of peak influenza illness.
  • Change in patterns of commerce: During a pandemic, consumer demand for items related to infection control is likely to increase dramatically, while consumer interest in other goods may decline. Consumers may also change the ways in which they shop as a result of the pandemic.
  • Interrupted supply/delivery: Shipments of items from those geographic areas severely affected by the pandemic may be delayed or cancelled. Measures you can use to protect yourself, your employees and your customers include engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, surgical masks and N95 respirators. Most employers will use a combination of control methods.
Who needs to be protected?
Employee risks of occupational exposure to influenza during a pandemic may vary from very high to high, medium or lower (caution) risk. The level of risk depends in part on whether or not jobs require close proximity to people potentially infected with the pandemic influenza virus, or whether they are required to have either repeated or extended contact with individuals or groups.

Very high exposure risk occupations are those with high potential exposure to high concentrations of known or suspected sources of pandemic influenza during specific medical or laboratory procedures (healthcare workers).

High exposure risk occupations are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of pandemic influenza virus (healthcare delivery and support).

Medium exposure risk occupations include jobs that require frequent, close contact (within six feet) exposures to known or suspected sources of pandemic influenza virus such as coworkers, the general public, outpatients, school children or other such individuals or groups (bank, retail, grocery, schools, etc.).

What are considered critical infrastructures?
According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are Key Infrastructures whose operations are critical in a pandemic event:
  • Agriculture/Food
  • Banking/Finance
  • Chemical & Hazardous Materials
  • Defense
  • Drinking Water/Treatment Systems
  • Energy
  • Healthcare/Public Health
  • Information Technology
  • National Icons
  • Postal
  • Shipping
  • Telecommunications
  • Transportation Systems


SIDEBAR: What quantity should I stockpile?

Very High Risk (Healthcare Workers): 1 N95 respirator per employee per aerosol-generating procedure OR 1 elastomeric respirator with 3 or more sets of filters per employee, depending on frequency of use

High Risk (Healthcare Delivery): 4 N95s/HCW/shift x 120 pandemic workdays or 8 N95s/EMT/shift x 120 pandemic workdays OR 1 reusable elastomeric respirator + 3 sets of filters per exposed employee

Medium Risk (Employees with high frequency close contact — within 6 feet — with the general population. Eg: banks, retail, grocery.): 2 N95s/employee/shift x 120 pandemic workdays OR 1 reusable elastomeric respirator + 3 sets of filters per employee

Source: OSHA Proposed Guidance on Workplace Stockpiling of Respirators and Facemasks forPandemic Influenza

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