HealthcarePapers 8(1) October 2007 : 18-28.doi:10.12927/hcpap.2007.19354

SARS and Health Worker Safety: Lessons for Influenza Pandemic Planning and Response

Mario A. Possamai


To the memory of Mr. Justice Archie Campbell

The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 provided valuable lessons for protecting health workers during an influenza pandemic or other public health crisis. In its final report, the SARS Commission concluded that a key lesson in worker safety was the precautionary principle. It stated that reasonable actions to reduce risk should not await scientific certainty. As recommended by the SARS Commission, this principle has now been enshrined in the Health Protection and Promotion Act (2007), Ontario's public health legislation and in Ontario's influenza pandemic plan. Another vital lesson for worker safety involves the occupational hygiene concept of a hierarchy of controls. It takes a holistic approach to worker safety, addressing each hazard through control at the source of the hazard, along the path between the worker and the hazard and, lastly, at the worker. Absent such an approach, the SARS Commission said worker safety may focus solely on a particular piece of personal protective equipment, such as an N95 respirator (important as it may be), or on specific policies and procedures, such as fit testing the N95 respirator to the wearer (significant as it may be). In worker safety, said the commission, the integrated whole is greater than the uncoordinated parts. The third and final worker safety lesson of SARS is the importance of having a robust safety culture in the workplace in which workers play an integral role in promoting a safe workplace.



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