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Six Strategies for Risk Managing Swine Flu Perils
May Risk Management Tip of the Month
By By Kevin Quinley, CPCU, ARM AIC, AIM, ARe © 2009

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Reports of swine flu outbreaks in Mexico, New Zealand and the United States have created concerns regarding a new pandemic. Among the challenges posed by swine flu are risk management headaches: employee illness, work force health, workers compensation perils, supply chain disruptions, etc.

What are risk managers to do in the face of this threat? Here are six strategies:

1.Medically monitor employees. Ask employees who visit swine flu affected areas to report to its medical department for temperature checks. Remind employees of swine flu symptoms. Conduct daily staff temperature checks and self-quarantine measures.

2. Geographically diversify supply chains. During the SARS epidemic a few years ago, for example, Danfoss -- an industrial controls maker -- shifted inventory to Europe and North America. It created reserve stocks for resupplying customers. Danfoss also nixed a China trip that some executives had planned. In the wake of prospective pandemics, companies can formulate back-up production plans to avert supply-chain disruption.

3. Quarantine. Again, responses to SARS in the early 2000’s offer a template for addressing swine flu. Mykrolis, a Billerica (MA) semiconductor firm, required employees who had been to affected areas to avoid the office for a 10-day quarantine. Caveat: quarantines may conflict with individual rights in many societies, however. Further, enforcing compliance can become problematic. When Hong Kong authorities quarantined the Amoy Gardens apartment complex there, many residents fled. In rural China, residents rioted over concerns that infected people would be quarantined. In rights-conscious America, enforcing quarantines may be even more problematic and collide with deeply embedded notions of personal freedom.

4. Telecommute. Consider asking employees returning from swine flu stricken areas to monitor their health and telecommute -- if possible -- for 10 days. During the SARS epidemic, WorldBridge Partners, a Cleveland executive recruiter, moved all employees to laptops and cell phones. It did this so that quarantines would not reduce productivity. Other companies used more e-mail, phone and video conferencing for business meetings. Still others put key staff on different shifts, with one team at the office while another works from home.

5.Curb Business travel. Many firms restricted employee travel to affected areas. This may involve curbing employee travel to Mexico. Alternatively, consider cancelling non-essential travel within Mexico. Companies can ban travel to specific “hot zones,” and urge employees to use video-conferencing or telephones to conduct business.

6.Upgrade corporate communications. Companies face communication challenges in disseminating relevant information to workforces regarding swine flu, including “hot” locales, symptoms, infection procedures, medical data, prevention tips, travel constraints, etc. Companies can and should harness myriad communication channels to disseminate the message. This can be through company-wide memos, e-mail, or via Intranets. Alerted employees to swine flu risks through an “incident notification page” via the company Intranet. Provide links to related websites, such as the site for the World Health Organization.

Use these six steps to “inoculate” your organization as much as possible from the adverse consequences of swine flu!

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