MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Ensuring business continuity in a pandemic

We may have largely escaped swine flu this time, but is your business ready for a future pandemic?

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

As you might have noticed, here at MT we thought that the coverage of the potential swine flu pandemic was a bit over-blown, to say the least. But although the immediate threat seems to have subsided, new cases are still being announced (three more today) – and the medics insist that it could return with a vengeance this winter.

Of course this might never happen. But it still makes sense to have a contingency plan in place to minimise disruption if it does. We asked Alison Brown, co-founder of ‘pandemic preparedness organisation’ Healthcare Connections, for her top 10 tips on how to ensure business continuity.

1. Create a pandemic management team
Identify a pandemic team who will be responsible for coordinating the company pandemic plans, education and communications to staff. This team must represent the organisation and understand how it operates.

2. Consider business-critical processes
Identify the critical activities undertaken by the business to enable continuity during a pandemic. Consider what staff/suppliers are essential to these activities and explore cross training to help cope with absent staff. Investigate and record which employees have worked in other departments within the business during their employment.

3. Educate everyone
It is essential that staff at all levels are well informed on pandemic influenza. Only a well-educated team can be sufficiently prepared. Everyone should be able to recognise the symptoms of flu, and the appropriate response if someone in the workplace becomes ill.

4. Work up an alternative comms plan
Consider alternatives to direct meetings and visits (e.g. phone or video conferencing). Internal communication plans should be drafted in advance providing guidance on what the appropriate course of action will be.

5. Plan carefully
Be prepared for subsequent waves and plan for the recovery phase. For example, medical experts are warning of a potential second wave of the H1N1 outbreak this autumn/winter and second waves are historically more threatening.

6. Raise hygiene standards
Germs can be easily spread through poor hygiene. Surfaces should be cleaned frequently, particularly communal break/kitchen areas, handrails, lift buttons etc. The importance of hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette should be communicated, staff should be encouraged to cough and sneeze into tissues which should be disposed of immediately and regular hand washing should be adopted. E.g. the option of self-isolation should be explored if an employee is displaying influenza-like symptoms to minimise contact with other employees.

7. Think about staff contingency arrangements
Consideration should be given to how the business will continue to operate without key members of staff due to sickness absence. Agency staff or cross training should be considered.

8. Show staff you care
Explore the option of providing employees with increased hand washing facilities such as antiviral gel rubs, or providing staff with anti-viral protection plans or even purchasing the anti viral medication on their behalf to get complete peace of mind. It may also be prudent to increase the level of cleaning staff and the frequency that they clean the premises.

9. Read up on Government policies
Existing absence and return to work policies should be examined to consider Government guidance on influenza sickness absence. Potentially explore the possibility of flexible worksites (working from home) and flexible work hours (e.g. staggered shifts). Investigate the ability for staff to access emails remotely or an emergency mobile phone line that can be used to ensure customer service lines can continue.

10. Put your pandemic strategy to the test
Any plans need to be robustly checked to ensure they are practical and effective.


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