UK employers totally unprepared for flu pandemic

Employers are still failing to recognise the financial blow that bird flu could have on their business, and are not making contingency plans quickly enough, experts have warned.

HSBC this week said it is putting in contingency plans based on worst case scenario estimates that up to half of its global staff could fall ill or be absent from work if a bird flu pandemic hits.

And the UN warned the threat to Europe is real and growing, after cases emerged in Turkey.

But most UK employers are underestimating or unconcerned about the potential impact of the virus, which is a growing threat, according to HR consultancy Croner.

Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner, said: “Businesses should evaluate all real and perceived risks to their organisation. While it may be more front of mind to prepare for other threats, such as terrorism, a pandemic could cause even greater disruption.”

Croner is advising employers to put a contingency plan in place with contribution from HR, health and safety and senior management personnel.

The plan may include a simple information bulletin to employees to keep them informed of where they can travel to and where to avoid, or providing suitable equipment for employees to continue to work from home.

“Employers can’t afford to wait and see to what extent this virus might strike. It’s only when they sit down and analyse the impact of a bird flu pandemic that they will begin to realise the potentially devastating effect it could have on their business. If the virus hits, there’ll be no time for planning,” Smith said.

Croner is offering the following guidelines for employers:

  • Incorporate a contingency plan into 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.

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