Ebola – Emergency Preparedness Plan?

Did anyone foresee an Ebola Outbreak in their Emergency Preparedness Plan?

EBOLA virusRecent events remind us that no matter how much you prepare, the unthinkable can happen. That’s why organizations prepare disaster recovery plans. Most, however, haven’t went to the trouble of detailing what to do in case of an Ebola outbreak, so we’ll communicate steps to take in your workplace.

The first item to be clear on is that unless you’re organization is a healthcare facility or related, there is little chance that the Ebola outbreak will affect, or infect, your workplace. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists healthcare workers, laboratory workers, airline workers, and humanitarian workers as most at risk. Additionally, transportation workers, funeral and mortuary workers, and first responders can also be placed at risk in certain circumstances.

Clear communication with employees about the risks of Ebola with up-to-date information will help address employee concerns and reduce fear-based workplace disruptions.

Know the Symptoms

According to the CDC, “The signs and symptoms of Ebola include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and lack of appetite. Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to the Ebola virus, although 8-10 days is most common.”

The problem with identifying these symptoms as Ebola is that they closely resemble influenza – a virus soon to hit a workplace near you. Health and safety professionals will need to put on their investigator hat and determine if an employee suffering from these symptoms has in any way come into contact with a person infected with the Ebola virus.

Better Safe than Sorry

If you have any doubts, being cautious is the best remedy. NBC reported that FirstEnergy, an Ohio-based energy company, sent two employees to work from home for 21 days after being exposed to the second Texas nurse who contracted the deadly illness.

Use the Epidemic to Review Containment Strategies

With the flu season about to begin, now is a good time to review workplace hygiene and tips to avoid becoming ill this year. Frequent hand washing, workplace distancing (6 ft.), disinfection procedures, PPE availability, and medical solutions like flu shots are all good items to cover while you have employees’ undivided attention. If sick employees can work from home, all the better to avoid a workplace epidemic.

Update Emergency Preparedness Guides

Fortunately, most organizations in the United States don’t have to consult their emergency preparedness guides often. When we do, its good practice to give it a review and update it as necessary. We appear to be in a state of accelerating change as business becomes increasingly global in nature and these occasions can remind us to update our plans. NIOSH has free resources to compare your plan.