Businesses Need to Prepare for Possible H1N1 Spread, According to Harvard Study
September 21, 2009

Only one-third of business owners believe they could sustain their businesses without server operational problems if half their workforces were absent for two weeks due to the H1N1 virus (also known as the swine flu), according to a recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The study, which is the result of a survey conducted this summer, also found that only one-fifth of businesses could be sustained for one month with half their employees ill.

In general, the HSPH study found that more small businesses believe they would be able to avoid having severe operational problems with a reduced workforce as compared to large businesses. For example, small business are more likely than large businesses to say they could avoid having severe operational problems for two weeks if half their workforce were absent; 40 percent of small businesses were optimistic about this, as compared with only 27 percent of large businesses.

"Businesses need to start planning how to adjust their operations to account for greater absenteeism and to slow the spread of H1N1 in the workplace," says Robert Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at HSPH.

While the study looked at business policies for handling a swine flu outbreak, HSPH also gathered information on strategies for slowing the spread of the virus if it becomes severe. For example, one approach recommended is to attempt to limit contact between both employees and employees and customers; however, the survey showed this might cause problems for many as well. HSPH found that half of those companies studied could make such changes for one to two weeks before running into problems.

Fifty-two percent of those surveyed reported that they fear there will be a more widespread outbreak of H1N1 this fall-and eighty-four percent reported concerns that the virus could negatively affect their businesses.

The survey also looked at businesses' sick leave policies, and found that approximately one in ten businesses surveyed said they had made changes to their employee sick leave policies since the spring H1N1 outbreak, and only a few (approximately 6 percent) that didn't offer any sick leave before are considering adding this option for the fall in the event of a serious outbreak.

Among those surveyed the most serious concerns were how to keep employees safe in a possible outbreak situation (77 percent); coping with a reduced workforce (59 percent); and planning for supply interruptions (59 percent).

Businesses report being interested in learning more about how to support their business and employees in a serious outbreak. Interest is highest for information about keeping employees safe (77%), coping with a reduced workforce (59%) and planning for supply interruptions (59%).

Many auto glass businesses started preparing this May-even before the news of a possible fall outbreak had spread. (CLICK HERE for related story.)

CLICK HERE for more information about planning for a possible H1N1 outbreak from the Center for Disease Control.

CLICK HERE for ideas for communication with employees about the 2009 H1N1 flu virus.

CLICK HERE for a list of eight ways to stay healthy during flu season (and throughout the year).

Is your business taking any precautions to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus, or to prepare for a possible outbreak? Please e-mail

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