Measles - is your workplace prepared?
As New Zealand’s worst measles outbreak in more than 20 years intensifies, thoughts automatically turn to the most vulnerable.
With 963 cases confirmed nationally, schools and childcare centres across the country are being urged to be vigilant. And people are being advised to stay away from public events if they are feeling unwell.
But, any place where you come into contact with others is a potential risk, and the workplace is no exception.
As an employer, it is your duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to take all practicable steps to mitigate risk and protect workers at all times from workplace hazards. And that includes notifiable diseases - of which measles in one.
Under the Health Act 1956, if a health practitioner has ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a patient is suffering from measles (or any other notifiable disease) they must report it to a Medical Officer of Health.
Employers are then notified to ensure appropriate health control measures are taken to reduce the risk of it spreading further.
If an employee is diagnosed with measles, public health officials will assess the level of risk and let you know what action needs to be taken - however it’s always good to have a plan up your sleeve before you need it.
Already having a policy or procedure in place, which clearly states employee obligations, will put you ahead of the game (as much as possible) should your workplace be affected by measles.
A good starting point is to think about what information you would need to convey to staff and how you would go about doing so, for instance:
• Explaining the risk
• Making sure employees are familiar with the symptoms
• Letting employees know where they can get vaccinated
• Reminding employees of the risk to family and friends
• Outlining any quarantine requirements
The other side of the coin is to think about how to communicate this to your customers, particularly if they may have come into contact with the affected employee.
The Ministry of Health and your local public health unit, such as Toi Te Ora Public Health, are good sources of up-to-date information and advice.
You also need to think about what impact it will have on your business if multiple staff members were to be off sick and/or quarantined at the same time. How will you keep your business running smoothly with less staff? If you have to offer reduced services, what will these be? How will you notify your customers? What financial impact will it have on your business?
Hopefully, you will not need to call on your contingency plan it, but if you do, being prepared means you can put more time and energy into where it’s needed - keeping your staff safe and well.