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Pandemic Preparedness

Are you ready for the worst?

by Paula Jones (November 23, 2009)

Pandemic is a scary word, no one wants to be sick, but have you considered how a pandemic might affect your business? The recent H1 N1 "swine flu" outbreak should give business owners pause for thought. How would a full pandemic or severe local outbreak affect your business and what can you do to prepare your business and educate your staff? Pandemic preparation could be equally applicable to local disasters such as flooding, earthquakes, tornados, terrorist attacks, or other such large-scale disasters that North American has experienced since the turn of the century.


Pandemics create a unique set of considerations to business, as it is more of a human resource issue than anything structural. One source suggests that "Businesses should plan for up to 50% staff absence for periods of two weeks at the height of a severe pandemic wave, and lower levels of staff either absence for a few weeks either side of the peak. Overall a pandemic wave may last about eight weeks."

A more detailed explanation suggests, "The average illness will affect an employee for 6-12 days. Some will require more time to recover. The "first wave" of the pandemic may last 6 weeks to 4 months. A "second wave" may last 6-10 months and could be worse than the first wave."

Another sources stated that "A flu virus can be contagious for 24 to 48 hours before any symptoms arise, and for five days after the onset of symptoms. This means you or your staff could spread the virus without knowing you are infected."

Business Continuity Plan

It is important to bear in mind that critical infrastructure could be greatly affected, directly related to manpower shortages, closures of schools and public places, and restrictions on air travel. In addition, the restricted movement of potential customers will affect your business for an even longer period of time. Emergency planning for business is called a "continuity plan." There are online and printed resources available to help put together your continuity plan, but do not wait until an emergency or a pandemic strikes before you begin your preparations.

Insurance Coverage

There is no blanket insurance for business disruption. Obviously it is easier to cover physical destruction of property that is measurable, but according to one Canadian insurance broker I spoke with, no such coverage exists for pandemics. So how can you prepare yourself for disruption of business? Crafting is not an essential service, and sales will definitely be affected. You may choose to close your business for the duration or plan alternatives to servicing your customers. You may not know how long you will be closed or have your business disrupted, so you need to have a contingency plan of what you may need to consider and actions you may need to take.

Staff Planning

1. Has your staff been trained in disease prevention and do you have an infection control program?

2. Do you encourage flu shots?

3. Has staff traveled to an affected area recently?

4. Have you cross-trained your staff so healthy staff can perform functions of absent colleagues?

5. Take into account staff having to stay home to care for their sick family.

6. Employees may be forced into confinement or quarantined because of exposure or symptoms of the disease.

7. Do you have an easily accessible staff contact list at home, complete with home and cell phone numbers? Does key management have copies of this list in case that you are incapacitated?

8. Are you responsible for paying sick days if full-time staff are absent? How long would this payable?

9. Is there any local or federal government legislation regarding protecting an employees job during an emergency? Does your state or province protect a leave of absence in urgent circumstances, where the government has declared an emergency? Will this apply?

(Note: Paula is Director of Operations for the Canadian Craft & Hobby Association, which is located at 633419 Hwy 10 N, Mono Plaza, PO Box 101, Orangeville, Ontario, L9W 2Z5. Call 519-940-5969; fax 519-941-0492; email info@cchacanada.org.)



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