The recent emergence of Influenza A (H1N1) has posed a challenge to employers worldwide, as the threat has not been isolated to a few locations. Concerned that this virus is going to become more serious and widespread, employers are taking actions to minimise their risk.
According to a new Mercer survey, employers worldwide are primarily concerned about hygiene and prevention, health information and advice, education and communication, and absence management with regard to H1N1. While more than half (52 percent) have a local contingency plan that applies to either some or all functions, only-one quarter (25 percent) of companies have integrated contingency plans that apply to all functions and all locations.
“Organisations around the world are facing the same concerns and issues with regard to H1N1,” said Russell Robbins, MD, a principal and senior clinical consultant for Mercer’s health and benefits consulting business. “Contingency plans are crucial and should define how to maximise health, safety and productivity in the workplace in the event of a pandemic. Additionally, HR policies and benefits need to be assessed as sources of information and communication with employees.”
Mercer’s survey, which includes responses from nearly 1,000 organisations worldwide, assesses what companies are doing to plan, communicate and minimise their risk as H1N1 continues to spread. The survey, which was conducted inOctober, includes responses from employers located in the United States, Latin America, Canada, Asia Pacific and Europe.
“Companies that do not have contingency plans in place should develop them now as it will be too late when an epidemic or disaster strikes later,” said Dr. Robbins. “The primary objective should be to minimise the risk for their workforce by avoiding unnecessary threats and preparing for recovery should they be impacted.”
As companies worldwide look for ways to limit workforce risk as a result of H1N1, the majority are implementing such workplace services as distributing hand sanitizers (94 percent), implementing more frequent or intensive office cleaning (64 percent) and providing educational sessions (54 percent).
Organisations are also communicating what is expected of their employees in case the company is affected by the H1N1 virus. Overall, two-thirds (67 percent) of organisations globally have done so. Slightly more organisations in Latin America (77 percent) and Asia (74 percent) have done so, most likely due to more cases being detected earlier on in these regions. In addition, the majority of companies worldwide who have communicated with their employees regarding the H1N1 virus have provided information on personal hygiene, such as washing hands and covering coughs (98 percent), as well as flu and health care protocols (88 percent) that should be enforced. Moreover, more than half (58 percent) of companies have addressed how to access information about possible restrictions or quarantine provisions.
According to Mercer’s survey, the majority of employers (95 percent) have up-to-date contact information for their employees in the event of illness, as well as up-to-date client information in order to notify them in case of business interruption. However, only one-third of organisations worldwide have issued guidance to their employees about the message that should be given to clients and suppliers should the business be affected by the spread of the virus.
Finally, more than one-third of organisations worldwide (37 percent) indicated that they have met with medical and absence management vendors to review absence duration and return to work guidelines for their employees. Employers are less likely to have had discussions with their vendors about customer service and medical management protocols, or coordination between health and absent management vendors.
“Communications with vendors is just as important as with your employees,” said Dr. Robbins. “Employers can still be impacted even if all of their employees are healthy but their supplier is unable to provide goods or services due to H1N1 or a school closure requires healthy employees to stay home to provide care to a family member.”