The H1N1 virus infection (aka swine flu) hysteria has calmed a little.  Across the world we have seen a leveling off of the infection to what appears to be a bit higher than normal influenza levels for this time of the year, and historically, influenza cases drop during the summer months.  This doesn’t mean that we should be complacent about the potential seriousness of this new strain of influenza.  In 1918 the “Spanish Influenza” started in the spring, and diminished during the summer months, only to come back stronger and more deadly in the fall.

 

This does give your company time to develop a response plan should a pandemic be declared in the fall.  

 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides excellent information and I will refer you to several specific sites/documents available there.

 

It is important to develop a plan early and roll it out as the need arises.  In order to plan, you need to understand what the potential impact is on your business.  Identify who are the essential employees and processes that are needed to continue operation.  Project what the impact to your suppliers, and customers.   An excellent checklist to help develop a plan can be found at http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/workplaceplanning/businesschecklist.html. 

 

First and foremost, you should concentrate on protecting your most important assets, your employees.  The best to this is through educating your workforce to practice good health habits. 

 

An excellent source of information outlining good health habits and the steps can be found at www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm  .  In addition to suggestions, there are posters available for downloading and printing. 

 

One area that is sometimes forgotten is the spread of the germs through contact with common objects.  Reminders to wipe down phone handsets, keyboards, fax, printers and copier machines or other common items should be broadcast, and disinfectant towelettes should be available.

 

For those employees who interface with the public, monitor their health and strongly urge them to obtain a flu shot.  This protects themselves as well as your customers from exposure to the flu through any interactions with your organization. Additionally you may want to help facilitate flu shots for all employees and family members.  Contact your health service provider for additional information.  One note of caution, there is currently no vaccine that has been developed for H1N1, and anything developed in the short term may not be effective as the virus grows.  Your health service provider can keep suggest the best course of action.

 

The executive team should consider establishing temporary changes in telecommuting and absenteeism policies to help both maintain a productive workforce, as well as provide an opportunity for your employee to be productive if a child is forced to be at home due to illness or a school closing. 

 

If you have facilities, customers or suppliers in “red zones” (areas with a high concentration of confirmed influenza cases) that are frequently visited by staff, consider tele or video conferencing as an alternative and employees who are traveling into these areas, or internationally should be aware of how to get updates on travel precautions or restrictions and benefits available if they are quarantined because of the flu.  To keep up to date on the status across the globe, I would suggest monitoring http://www.who.int/en/ .

 

Government web sites and media outlets should be monitored for the latest information that is available.  A good site to monitor is www.pandemicflu.gov which provides the latest information available from the government on the current flu situation. 

 

By keeping in touch and on top of the influenza information, your company will be positioned to minimize the effects of a pandemic, your employees will be confident in the organizations leadership and your customers will be assured of long term commitment to them by your planning.