How do I protect my organisation during a health scare?
Be it swine flu, bird flu, foot and mouth disease or any other health scare that is front page news, you have an obligation to your company and colleagues to make sure you protect their health.
Generally any impending pandemic will be accompanied by government instructions on what to do, but that doesn't stop you from preparing yourself just in case.
- Make a plan - Analyse your operations and evaluate the risks. Identify critical business functions and the staff who perform them. How will your business operate if these key people become ill? Cross-train capable staff to take over their management. Be prepared to change your business practices to maintain critical operations. For example, re-prioritise your customer list, identify alternative sources of supply, identify and be prepared to suspend less critical operations.
- Make sure your plan will work - Conduct exercises or hold detailed discussions of your plan with your management teams, to test its strengths, weaknesses and adjust accordingly.
- Review your insurance - Standard business policies are unlikely to guard you from business-wide absenteeism and consequent lost productivity or reputation. Talk to specialists about what protection is possible.
- Prevention is better than cure - Institute and pay for an on or off-site vaccination programme. Give employees time off to attend as necessary.
- Institute hygiene measures - Ask your staff to wash their hands with soap and water at least five times a day and use tissues to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Supply alcohol hand sanitisers to supplement this. Regularly clean all work surfaces with detergents, bleach or alcohol and consider preventative measures, as the threat grows, such as masks and gloves
- Prepare to be flexible. Have flexible workplace policies and practices ready to put in place. These could include working from home, canceling non-essential travel and flexible work hours, for example, splitting work attendance into three daily eight-hour shifts. Ensure that you have the technology and structure in place to allow workers to work from home. Should ‘social distancing’ become mandatory to reduce the spread of disease, these plans will minimise the impact on your business. It is also vital to plan for staff with children having child care arrangements cancelled or schools closed.
- Communicate clearly. Keep your staff informed of your pandemic plan via emails, intranet, extranet or company meetings. Appoint a pandemic adviser to whom staff can ask questions or share concerns. Ensure it’s clear what is expected of them and what your human resources, workplace, sick leave, pay and benefits policies are.
Once you have come out of the other side of a health scar, don't be tempted to let your guard down. Pandemics usually strike in two or more waves, the second often appearing within three to nine months after the first.
It's also important to learn from your mistakes. Assess your plan’s effectiveness and address any problems immediately while the experience is fresh so you can ensure the good health of your organisation the next time it comes under threat.