Expert Advice For Employers: Prepare for Pandemic Flu Now

A safety and health professional working for FedEx Express had two words of wisdom for attendees at a webinar on pandemic influenza hosted by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE): Prepare Now.

Scott Mugno, FedEx Express’s managing director, corporate safety, health and fire protection, stated that as the threat of pandemic influenza was imminent, it was imperative that businesses develop continuity planning now in case of a flu breakout.

According to Mugno, who led the interactive webinar titled “Pandemic Influenza: Threat vs. Preparedness,” pandemics are inevitable and occur regularly throughout history. Examples include the 1918 Spanish flu, responsible for 40 to 50 million deaths worldwide and 675,000 deaths in the United States; the 1957 Asian flu that caused one to four million deaths and 70,000 in the United States; and the 1968 Hong Kong flu also responsible for one to four million deaths and 34,000 within the United States.

Due to the increasing cases of avian bird flu developing, it is necessary, Mugno said, for businesses to have a continuity plan in place before the next major pandemic flu outbreak.

Mugno: Employers Should Stay Informed

Currently, there is worldwide concern about the possible spread of the Avian H5N1 (A H5N1) virus. The influenza A H5N1 virus raised concerns about a potential human pandemic because it is particularly potent. As of Dec. 13, 2007, there are 339 known confirmed human cases of A H5N1 and 208 confirmed deaths, a fatality rate of 61 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

"However," Mugno said, “the A H5N1 may not be the pandemic flu. The key is for businesses and the public to stay informed and updated. Businesses need to teach awareness and take precautions now.”

Employers should remain current with pandemic updates because the economic and human impact could be very costly. According to a March 2007 Trust for America’s Health Analysis, the U.S. economy could lose an estimated $683 billion in the event of a pandemic outbreak, roughly five and a half percent decline in annual GDP.

Key concerns of U.S. pandemic preparedness, according to Mugno, include:

  • Lack of vaccine and vaccine production capability.
  • Inadequate capabilities to distribute vaccine and medical equipment.
  • Insufficient stockpile of antiviral drugs and other medical equipment.
  • Gaps in hospital and health care provider capacity to manage a surge of patients.
  • Shortage in health care providers.
  • Health insurance and worker’s comp issues.

Tips for Employers

For this reason, Mugno decided to share some tips he said employers should implement to prepare for the possibility of the flu and to keep their businesses and their workers safe.

  • Establish trigger points and checklists as waves of pandemic phases occur.
  • Review business demand shifts.
  • Prepare media point person for the pandemic.
  • Conduct company wide analysis of essential/nonessential functions.
  • Develop emergency corporate chain of command.
  • Develop essential contacts/relationships with governmental agencies.
  • Consider increasing security for warehouses and vehicles.
  • Develop procedures.
  • Develop plans to minimize the high potential for a fuel shortage.
  • Develop policies to address drivers/operators shortage.
  • Investigate the potential to secure housing for critical employees.
  • Develop cooperative arrangements with suppliers.

In addition, employers who are considering stockpiling antiviral drugs should plan for collaboration with state and local public health departments, comply with state and federal prescribing and dispensing laws and regulations, consider ethical and equity concerns as well as cost and logistical concerns, develop stockpiling and dispensing models and educate their employees.

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