Following years of planning and questioning pandemic flu preparation, 2009 provided the impetus to force several specific industries to refocus and increase planning. The seasonal flu comes every year with vaccines and reminders to wash hands, cough or sneeze into our elbow and stay home if we are sick. However, the attention and tracking that occurred with the H1N1 influenza heightened our awareness and concern to impact organizations in a variety of ways.
The challenge is determining the potential impact or risk to the organization. The seasonal flu has set a level of risk and therefore preventive measures to implement. The CDC estimates that seasonal flu was the cause of an average of 36,000 deaths from the 1990–1991 flu season to the 1998–1999 flu season (CDC, 2009a) H1N1 influenza outbreaks was unknown. The severity, timing and numbers of persons to be impacted were uncertain. The fall/winter H1N1 2009 influenza epidemic appeared to be impacting more communities than the spring/summer H1N1 influenza season. CDC, 2009, Interim) How does an organization plan for such an unknown impact? In the safety and industrial hygiene arena, prevention starts with engineering the hazard out of the activity. The next step is to implement administrative controls to protect the employee. Finally, when the first two steps are not possible or sufficient, personal protective equipment is provided as a barrier between the employee and the hazard. The primary personal protective equipment against H1N1 is a respirator.
Respiratory protection programs have protected employees from a wide variety of airborne contaminants. These predominantly were identifiable, had exposure limitations, and were able to be quantified. This changed in the H1N1/Pandemic Flu environment. This paper will predominantly focus on the impact H1N1/Pandemic Flu can have on a respiratory protection program as well as ideas to manage the impact.