Health Care Unions: We’re Not Ready to Protect Workers During Flu Pandemic
A new union survey of more than 100 health care facilities across the country reveals that many are not adequately prepared to protect workers’ health and safety during an influenza pandemic.
The report, “Healthcare Workers In Peril: Preparing to Protect Worker Health and Safety During Pandemic Influenza,” conducted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the AFL-CIO and other unions, concludes that workers face a very high risk of becoming infected when caring for patients with pandemic flu unless adequate health and safety measures are in place in advance of a pandemic.
“Our survey has identified serious deficiencies in the preparedness of health care facilities,” said AFSCME International President Gerald W. McEntee. “Unless hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities do a better job of addressing all health and safety areas surveyed, workers will become sick and, as a consequence, be unavailable to care for sick patients.”
With no existing comprehensive federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard on airborne diseases designed to protect health-care workers, the pandemic flu preparedness survey was conducted to assess the extent of employer efforts in planning adequate safety and health measures.
More than a hundred surveys were collected by six unions in 14 states. The collected surveys indicate that health care facilities have made some progress in preparing for a flu pandemic, but much more needs to be done. Results show:
* Only 4 percent of the respondents reported that their facility was “very ready” to respond to a flu pandemic.
* Less than half the facilities surveyed (43 percent) have provided pandemic flu training to their workers, one of the fundamental elements of protecting workers from occupational hazards.
* One-third of the facilities have yet to develop a written plan for responding to pandemic flu.
* Only 54 percent of the facilities have identified health care workers who will be at some risk of occupational exposure to the pandemic flu virus.
“In order to provide care for patients infected with pandemic flu and protect health care worker from exposure, plans for safety and health issues should be made before the flu arrives,” McEntee said.