Protecting Your Interests

Organizations must decide how much time, energy and resources should be allocated to pandemic planning. Under "Pros" for planning, the unique form, speed and breadth of infection is remarkable, as is the mortality so far. Widespread absence is likely to present serious and longlasting consequences. Among the "Cons" against planning, a pandemic may not happen soon, or be milder than expected, and simply divert resources from more immediate and tangible corporate needs. Our governments and health services are well prepared, and this may mitigate any serious workplace issues.
Bottom Line: Each organization must determine its exposure and risk, and act accordingly.
When governments at all levels, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, the Conference Board of Canada, and a global human resources consulting firm all sponsor major research and reports on the pandemic threat, it is clear we have an important topic before us. That leaves us with just one major issue – why more employers haven’t yet translated this concern into planning for business continuity.
Smaller businesses, and even some large ones, will not wade through all these reports and search key websites for pandemic information. Planning for pandemic and other important operational disrupters is not often the first priority. However, in the event of a disaster like pandemic, resilience will be a critical quality and this will be largely dependent on enough preparation…and a measure of good luck.
Each business should evaluate the information presented in this special issue of businesshealth, carefully examine other reputable sources of information (see: Need More Information), and consult with business advisors to determine how best to prepare. Take the opportunity to consider management plans for a number of different risks, each with different degrees of disruption, likelihood, duration, timing, and impact on employees, suppliers, customers, owners and physical assets. Some examples would be electrical brownouts or blackouts, flooding, severe weather, fire, earthquake, breaches of technology firewalls or physical security, and yes, even terrorist attacks.
Our intent is to neither unduly alarm readers, nor instil a false sense of security. Many of us belonged to the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides in our childhood, and we all know the motto: Be prepared.
Should You Invest In Planning For Pandemic Influenza?
  1. Experts agree there will be an influenza pandemic, even though the timing and severity is not clear.
  2. A pandemic will provide a unique form of disruption, travel around the world in 2-3 months, last locally for 6-8 weeks, and recur once or twice.
  3. The Avian flu (Influenza type A H5N1) is currently endemic in South-east Asia, and is the most likely variety to begin a global pandemic. It has jumped from birds to humans, and occasionally, but notreadily, between humans.
  4. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a total of 151 human deaths among 256 confirmed cases of H5N1 flu. So far this year, there have been 109 cases and 73 deaths. By mid-September, there had already been more cases and almost 60% more deaths than in all of 2005.
  5. There will be little time to plan, with only a 3-4 week interval expected between confirmed widespread human-human transmission of the virus and its probablearrival in Canada.
  6. Overall illness rates among Canadian workers are projected to be 15% to 35%. Perhaps 50% will be absent at the peak to care for family members, or because they are afraid of going to work, or because schools have shut down.
  7. A pandemic will have a serious effect on suppliers and customers. Widespread or prolonged labour shortages may have a serious effect on our national infrastructure, including telecommunications, power generation, and health services.
  8. While governments are generally thought to be wellprepared, most businesses, even those with "essential" workers, do not have written continuity plans. Human resources policies and practices, including the availability of attendance bonuses, hygiene education, and insured short-term disability coverage, should be developed or confirmed as part of the HR plan.
  1. A pandemic won’t happen soon, and maybe not at all. It may be another "Y2K" false alarm.
  2. The H5N1 virus "has existed since at least 1997, and despite several outbreaks, it has not yet mutated." (From: A State of Unpreparedness, Conference Board of Canada, 2006). A pandemic is not imminent, so our time and energy will be better spent on more immediate opportunities and more likely threats to our organizations.
  3. We learned enough from SARS to protect us from a pandemic.
  4. Our business will have enough time to plan before the virus gets to Canada. The situation in South-east Asia could not happen here with our superior animal and food regulations, agricultural vigilance, and health services.
  5. The business community does not need to make any special preparations. It does need to become aware of the efforts and resources of our governments and public health agencies.
  6. If a pandemic occurs, there will be enough supplies, equipment, computers and telecommunication capacity to allow the workforce to provide services from off-site locations.
  7. Our current HR policies and programs are adequate. People will not be afraid to come to work, so absence rates will be manageable. This would just be a temporary bump for our organizations.

Need More Information?

Selected Resources and Links for Pandemic Influenza and Your Business
Government of Canada, Safe Canada, Resource List, at:
Public Health Agency of Canada Pandemic Plan, at:
Alberta Human Resources and Development, Pandemic Influenza and Your Business: Are You Ready?,
Alberta Municipal Affairs, Pandemic Influenza – Business Checklist,
Alberta Municipal Affairs, Pandemic: What If…. Questions and Answers relating to Work,
British Columbia Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plan, A Guide for B.C. Industry and Commerce,
British Columbia Ministry of Economic Development, Potential Impact of Pandemic Influenza on the
Manitoba Ministry of Health, Pandemic Influenza – Preparedness Guidelines for Manitoba Business
Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care, Health Plan for an Influenza Pandemic,
Capital Health Region (Edmonton),
Vancouver Coastal Health, at:
Bank of Montreal / Nesbitt Burns – The Avian Flu Crisis: An Economic Update,
Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters – Influenza Pandemic: Continuity Planning Guide for Canadian Businesses,
Booz Allen Hamilton – Influenza Pandemic Simulation: Implications for the Private and Public Sector,
Marsh & McLennan – Risk Alert – Avian Flu: Preparing for a Pandemic,
United States – United States Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: Key Facts About Avian Influenza
(Bird Flu) and Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Virus, at:
Categories: Bottom Line