Bird flu, known as H5N1, currently lacks the ability to transfer from human to human, but, like ordinary flu, it is steadily changes and health officials are concerned it will develop that ability. If this happens, the consequences could be catastrophic. More than eight out of 10 large UK companies have made emergency plans, according to a survey by The Sunday Telegraph.
However, smaller employers are failing to recognise the financial consequences that bird flu could have on their business, and are not make contingency plans quick enough, according to business adviser Croner. Businesses need to look at the possibilities of staff shortages and practical workplace hygiene says Croner, which is receiving a growing number of enquiries on the subject.
‘No one really knows whether the virus will become a pandemic, but after the UN warning, we’re advising employers to be prepared for the worst,’ says Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner. ‘Businesses should evaluate all real and perceived risks to their organisation. If the virus hits, there’ll be no time for planning.’
The potential risks are: staff shortage through employees taking time off ill, to care for others, or to avoid infection; costs of stringent health and safety policies and procedures for preventing spread of the virus; disruption to public transport making it difficult or impossible for staff to get to work; costs of home-working solutions for those unable to attend work; disruption to supply chain; and disruption to business travel, especially by air.
Croner is offering the following guidelines for employers:
- Incorporate a contingency plan into your overall business strategy
- Inform and consult employees to make them aware a plan exists and what to do if the pandemic reaches the UK
- Identify and keep records of skills and capabilities of the entire workforce so that employees may be redeployed into other roles if necessary
- Evaluate real and perceived risks by monitoring the spread of bird flu
- Look at alternative methods of communication, including web casting and video conferencing
- Reconsider policies on flexible working and home working