Unlike other forms of transport, subways and buses will be affected by psychological and physical aspects of riders, making it crucial to employ a fluid contingency plan should a nationwide pandemic interfere with the way children get to school, adults get to work and transport workers healthy.
Maintaining a healthy workforce is a primary concern, but a sick relative or child can affect the overall workforce and require schedules to be adapted. DHS first encourages employers to ensure that their employees are vaccinated, either through a workplace directive or through an outside medical resource. Second, consistently educating employees on the benefit of hand washing can be one of the best defenses against absenteeism.
A scientific study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine last October found that one in four commuters tested had bacteria on their hands. Throughout our daily routine, our hands touch more surfaces than we may be aware of, picking up germs and relocating them from one area to another.
Encouraging employees to routinely wash their hands throughout the day with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer limits the transfer of germs and can maintain a healthy environment.
Other mitigating steps to ensure a healthy workplace include:
- Internal communications that stress infection control practices such as respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette
- Dissemination and easy access to alcohol-based hand sanitizers
- Providing tissues and reminding employees of appropriate disposal
- Ensure that all employees have access to personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves and NIOSH-approved filtering face piece respirators for workers
The DHS offers a checklist online outlining healthy initiatives at www.flu.gov/professional/business/businesschecklist.html
One Surface, Many Victims
Influenza virus and H1N1 droplets deposited from a cough or sneeze onto surfaces can live up to 24 hours, but amounts necessary to infect a person live up to 8 hours after being contaminated. The virus is spread when a person touches the germs and then touches his or her nose, eyes or mouth.
As millions of passengers enter and exit buses, rails and subways daily, transport agencies are stepping up cleaning and sanitizing schedules to protect passengers.
Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which serves more than 1 million riders daily in Maryland, Virginia and D.C., and 10,000 employees, utilizes public announcements to continuously remind passengers about ways to avoid spreading and getting germs, says WMATA spokesperson Cathy Asato.
Its Web site also urges vigilance, “Metro riders are urged to take basic precautions to protect themselves and their fellow riders, including frequent hand washing, covering the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or coughing or sneezing into the upper sleeve, not hands when a tissue is not available, and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth.
To keep their hands clean while traveling, riders should carry tissues, waterless hand-sanitizing gels or disinfecting wipes.”
In October, WMATA began increasing its disinfecting regimen on all its Metrorail and Metrobus systems from once every two weeks to once a week. For sanitizing, WMATA uses an environmentally friendly cleanser that is applied by spray on all surfaces and as a fogger on some equipment.
“Touch surfaces such as fare boxes, telephones and fare gates are cleaned daily,” adds Asato.
Washington Metro developed the first disease preparedness plan to address ongoing global infectious challenges. The Metro Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plan includes guidelines and policies established by the CDC and WHO that address challenges with workforce absenteeism, the implementation of sanitizer stations in several workplace locations and an employee hotline and Intranet to establish fluid lines of communication during a heightened pandemic.
According to the CDC, the “Influenza virus is destroyed by several chemical germicides, including chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, detergents (soap), iodophors (iodine-based antiseptics) and alcohols which are effective against human influenza viruses if used in proper concentration for a sufficient length of time.”