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Coping with fears of swine flu

The outbreak of Influenza A (H1N1) infection should not send corporations into a state of panic, instead the focus should be on educating employees and clients about precautions, according to security professionals with experience dealing with pandemic planning.



May 14, 2009
By Jennifer Sanasie

Topics

“Everybody needs to be prepared for a pandemic because we don’t know
when it’s going to happen,” says Martin Green, manager of security and
parking at Rouge Valley Health System in Toronto.

Unlike other events that threaten business continuity, such as floods
or fires, which can cripple the infrastructure of a business, pandemics
have the potential to more broadly impact a company’s human resources.

“Certain businesses can shut down very easily, and all they will lose
is money; other businesses can’t shut down at all,” says Derek Knights
Director of Investigative Services with Sun Life in Toronto.

With the outbreak of Influenza A(H1N1) virus, businesses are
re-examining their pandemic planning. In 2003, SARS was a wake up call
for pandemic planning, but since then organizations may have dropped
the sense of urgency to be prepared.

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Knights says businesses should be planning for a pandemic and reviewing
their business continuity plans. “If you haven’t done it yet, do it;
and if you have, re-do it,” he says.

On April 29 the Influenza A(H1N1) infection was raised to a phase five
out of six on the pandemic alert chart by the World Health Organization
(WHO).

The WHO outlines a phase five warning as, “[a] human-to-human spread of
the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most
countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase
5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent [”¦]”

The WHO says individuals who are ill should delay travel plans
and returning travellers who fall ill should seek appropriate medical
care. 

Green explains that the hospitals he works at have prepared for an
outbreak with Tamiflu antiviral drug for employees, a four-week supply
of masks, and the hospitals have begun screening people at the doors
for flu like symptoms. “If people show symptoms they are asked to wear
a mask,” Green explains.

Rui Martins, the director of training and consulting, at Respond
Solutions Inc., says that while this strain of the flu may be mild, it
is a strain of flu that humans have never experienced before. “As it
goes around the world, H1N1 virus may mutate, and mix with something
like the avian flu — and potentially become deadly.”

Education is critical says Martins and employers should post materials
about the flu and offer employees suggestions to stay healthy.

He says employers should also review their sick time policy and
consider whether employee sick time should be paid or unpaid and should
employees be permitted, and equipped to work from home?

Some simple steps that can be taken in the workplace to help employees remain healthy are:  
Ӣ promote hand washing and sanitizing
Ӣ encourage employees to socially distance themselves, i.e. no hand shaking
Ӣ stay home when sick
Ӣ post information that will educate employees about flu

A complete pandemic planning tool kit can be found at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce website: www.occ.on.ca.  


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