Business feature: Businesses taking steps to avoid flu

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Jade Gallegos, a Clovis Community College student who runs the information desk under the work-study program, said a lot of visitors stop to use a hand sanitizer station near the door. The college is one of a number of local organizations taking steps to prevent the spread of H1N1 flu.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Employers are taking measures to try to reduce the effect of H1N1 flu on their operations.

Posting H1N1 educational material in the workplace, providing hand sanitizer and tissues, and telling employees to stay home if they feel ill are but some of the steps.

At High Plains Federal Credit Union, much of the day-to-day routine involves dealing with the public, creating an environment that could be ripe for H1N1 or seasonal flu.

But President Marty Tressell said so far there have been no cases of H1N1 among the 24 employees at the institution’s two locations.

“Our plan has been to make sure the staff utilizes the methods (of prevention) that have been recommended, (and) if they’re ill, then we request that they stay home until there’s some sign of waning,” he said Monday.

Tressell said in some cases, employees who are feeling under the weather are able to work from home, as he himself did last week.

A Harvard School of Public Health study found two-thirds of businesses could not maintain normal operations if half their workers were out for two weeks. And the Centers for Disease Control estimates every person who comes to work with swine flu will infect 10 percent of co-workers.

So companies are heeding advice on how to avoid a catastrophe.

Clovis Community College offered flu shots to employees two weeks ago.

And spokeswoman Lisa Spencer said they have taken other steps to make the high-traffic campus flu-unfriendly.

Near every entrance, at every counter and on nearly every desk in the building are hand sanitation stations or bottles of sanitizer, and signs hang in rest rooms instructing on how and when to wash hands.

And employees and department heads have been told that anyone with flu symptoms should stay home.

Spencer said CCC also posted an H1N1 information section on its Web site.

She said not only has there not been an issue at the college with H1N1, but administrators have also found absences from severe illness in general are down.

“We’ve had the normal colds and allergies and migraine headaches, but we have not seen any of the flu,” she said.

“I think some people have been out with the regular flu but not for weeks on end.”

For small businesses, the impact of H1N1 could critically hinder operations, as in the case of Esmael Yzaguirie, who owns and operates Smiley’s Hair Studio.

If he gets the flu, he would have to close up shop until he was well enough to work again.

“I just put my trust in God that I don’t get sick,” he said.

So he has placed hand sanitizer in the public rest room at his shop and asks that sick customers wait until they are well to come in, especially in the case of children, who tend to be less conscientious about preventing the spread of germs.

Yzaguirie said he tries to be as polite as possible to customers, but at the same time, “I can’t afford to lose work.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Some common strategies employers are using or planning to limit the spread of H1N1 flu among their work force and keep operations going normally:

— Posting information about H1N1, including tips on hygiene and overall healthy behavior.

— Giving hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes to employees or placing them in major traffic areas.

— Limiting in-person meetings and instead opting for teleconferences.

— Encouraging social distancing, such as not shaking hands.

— Cross-training employees to cover critical functions.

— Planning to shift work from hard-hit locations to other facilities.

— Stocking up on protective face masks.

— Stepping up office facility cleaning, particularly in “high-touch” areas.

— Telling workers to stay home if they are ill, generally allowing telecommuting for staff members who must stay home to care for relatives sick with H1N1.

— Drills to verify that computer systems can handle a sharp increase in those working remotely.

Source: AP interviews