MediRite urges businesses to maintain swine flu defences

British businesses are being urged to maintain their defences against swine flu even though the mass vaccination programme has now started.

They may not be able to prevent a second wave of the virus sweeping across the country this autumn and winter, but they can certainly help to slow its progress by actively encouraging people to continue good hygiene practices such as as keeping their distance from others; washing their hands regularly and using anti-bacterial hand gel when necessary; coughing into the crook of their arm or a clean tissue; and binning tissues after one use.

David Kirtley, national sales manager of MediRite, Posturite’s specialist occupational health and first aid division, said: “With the vaccination programme now being rolled out, there could be a temptation for businesses to drop their guard. That would be a mistake. We all need to remain vigilant in order to try to lessen the impact that the anticipated second wave of the virus will have on the country this autumn and winter.

“We are here to help businesses manage their organisation’s defences against the virus. People can find out more by visiting our website or, if they would like to discuss any bespoke arrangements for infection control, they should contact their local Account Manager or call Alastair Sawyer on 07825 528171.”

David’s advice comes in the wake of a recent report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) that shows that fewer than half of Britain’s employers have proper contingency plans in place to deal with the consequences of a second wave of swine flu.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser at the CIPD said: “There is a real danger of senior management teams ignoring the threat to their business posed by a second and more serious wave of swine flu after seeing the first wave subside much more quickly than anticipated.

“The media and public hysteria sparked by the initial stage of the pandemic has created a ‘cry wolf’ effect where the temptation for business leaders is to ask what all the fuss was about and get on with the priority of competing and surviving in recession.

“Evidence shows that still only a minority of employers have an adequate contingency plan in place to deal with a flu pandemic, which is extremely worrying considering that staff absence levels could peak for some businesses at levels which will make business as usual extremely difficult. The CIPD and the BCI believe all businesses should plan for a worst case scenario where staff absence rates reach 50%.”

“Success in managing through the flu pandemic will be dependent on the rigour of the planning that has gone on before the outbreak. A pre-pandemic plan will help minimise losses, but it’s not enough to just focus on the impact of large-scale absence on the business itself. Supply-chain and customer issues also need to be considered to keep businesses afloat if there is new surge of swine flu cases.”

In a jointly-published guide, Risk and Business Continuity Management, the CIPD and BCI warn businesses to take the following steps:

  • Prioritise essential activities
  • Provide cross training of staff in critical areas so employees have the skills to fill in for absent colleagues
  • Consider remote working to prevent spread of infection
  • Consider reducing human contact for those with key skills
  • Consider increasing customer self-service options such as telephone and online transactions
  • Keep on top of government advice and adapt plans to reflect changes
  • Communicate plans with staff, customers and suppliers
  • Follow public health agency advice on efficient ways to contain the virus
  • Provide a safe workplace by implementing rules on health reporting, office and personal hygiene, protective equipment, social distancing and working hours

The views of the CIPD and BCI are backed up by research carried out by international law firm Eversheds which found that, despite more than two-thirds (72%) of UK businesses having now been affected by swine flu, 41% still don't have a contingency plan in place to deal with a second wave.

However, the survey revealed widespread concern over the potential future implications of employee absenteeism, with 38% of businesses believing they will lose revenue and one in five (21%) indicating they expect to have to close or part close premises.

Martin Warren, head of employment law at Eversheds, said: "All organisations should have a contingency plan in place which addresses the risk of swine flu and tackles business continuity issues should the virus take hold. At a tactical level, this may include the redeployment of staff, hiring additional agency labour, increasing stand-by cover for key operational roles and the temporary shutdown of infected workplaces."