Minimising the Risk and Impact of an Influenza Pandemic on your Business
A Practical Guide for Employers
This material is designed to help employers prepare and respond to the health and business risks created by an influenza pandemic. The material has been drafted to provide a series of quite practical suggestions and options for prompt planning by individual businesses.
There is no one, single pandemic scenario. Business planning needs, therefore, to be pragmatic and provide enough options for a business to respond to a range of scenarios. Successful planning will involve talking with staff working in the business and with suppliers and customers. This material has been prepared to support workplaces doing that planning and has not been drafted as prescriptive, legal advice.
Businesses will need to keep themselves informed of developments and update their plans accordingly. In addition to the existing business networks and organisations you belong to, the Department of Labour, Ministry of Economic Development and Ministry of Health will be ongoing sources of information on the implications for workplaces, businesses, and public health.
As a starting point, there are some simple but important pieces of information to keep in mind:
- A pandemic will affect your business, your staff and your customers – just how much will depend on the severity of the pandemic and how well prepared you are. Health experts (e.g. the World Health Organisation) tell us it’s a matter of when, not if, a pandemic occurs.
- You need to plan for it now – covering steps your business can take pre-, during and after a pandemic. There is no one, single response you can plan for – you and your staff need to be able to respond flexibly, depending on the situation. Updating your business continuity planning will also have wider benefits – it will be worthwhile in the event of other crises occurring.
- It’s important to look to the recovery phase as a basis for your planning – actions you take during the pandemic will impact on your ability to return to business as usual.
- Employment relations and health and safety law provide a minimum requirement, but on their own they don’t give all the answers to a pandemic situation - organisations will need to take a practical and human approach.
- Good communication between employers, employees, unions and other workplace participants is a critical step in planning.
- Work with your employees on a plan that will enable you to keep your business open as long as possible, or if you are an essential service, to remain open right through the pandemic. Keep yourself informed. Talk to your staff and supply chain so you can update your plan as things change.
- Recognise the human dimension to a pandemic. People will have important and legitimate personal, family and community responsibilities (for example, childcare if schools are closed) - so your planning will need to treat them as a reality to work with, not as an inconvenience to avoid or work against.
- Expect people to be concerned about contracting influenza during a pandemic – it is only natural. Good health and safety practices will provide the best framework for helping you respond to the risk of infection, and will assure people that all practicable steps have been taken.
In a pandemic situation, the biggest risk (and, therefore, the thing to try and eliminate, isolate or minimise as much as possible) is close contact between people. Think about your workplace and what is practical for you. Examples include:
Eliminate the risk of possible infection through person-to-person contact:
- Enable more people to work from home without the need for face to face meetings
- Offer internet shopping and other self-service options (and be prepared for more customers to use it)
- Work varied shift patterns, or extended or flexible hours to limit the number of people in the workplace at any one time
- 'Don’t be a martyr' – don’t come into the workplace if you are feeling unwell.
Isolate the risk of possible infection:
- Install screens
- Use ‘Night Service’ windows to remove direct staff/customer contact
Minimise the risk of possible infection:
- Provide and use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where appropriate and practical for your workplace e.g. P2 masks, gloves etc. and provide the associated training, waste disposal and decontamination facilities
- Provide training and improve facilities to maximise personal hygiene e.g. hand washing techniques, foot-operated, lined waste bins
- Provide training and facilities to enable people to maintain social distancing i.e. so they are able to work far enough away from others to prevent cross infection.