A combination of strategies may be needed to mitigate the risk to their
employees and businesses
TORONTO, June 22 /CNW/ - At a recent Corporate Risk Managers' Roundtable
on Pandemic Preparedness, hosted by the Schulich School of Business, corporate
risk managers from major industries across Canada came together to exchange
ideas and share practices in influenza pandemic planning. The resulting report
is being presented today at the World Conference on Disaster Management in
"Large Canadian corporations understand that pandemic preparedness plans
are critical to the health of their bottom line and have invested considerable
resources to strengthen existing plans," says Professor Amin Mawani the
report's author and Associate Professor of the Health Industry Management
Program at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.
"Discussion at the Schulich Roundtable indicated that some of corporate
Canada's current practices for pandemic preparedness include ongoing
communications with employees hand hygiene, travel restrictions, and access to
sanitizers and related supplies for equipment handling."
The Schulich report goes on to suggest that corporate risk managers may
need to consider and implement other measures to reduce the risk of employee
infection. These additional measures may include what they have already put
into place, as well as new strategies such as social distancing, personal
protective equipment, antiviral stockpiles, and self-quarantine. Many
corporations have already considered remote work potential, staggered work
hours, and limited entry and exit to facilities. They also have instituted
policies for managing sick employees, and managing communications and the
corporate website for emergency plans. (i)(ii)
The Schulich Roundtable was held on May 6, 2009 in the midst of a World
Health Organization (WHO) pandemic alert Phase 5 due to the influenza A/H1N1
(human swine flu) virus. Recently, the WHO elevated the pandemic alert to
Phase 6, which means a full-scale pandemic - even though it is not backed yet
by a very strong virus.
According to the WHO, the next several months could see the new H1N1 flu
virus continue to spread around the world, reaching further into the southern
hemisphere during the winter season, then possibly resurging in the northern
hemisphere come fall. (iii) The WHO also warns of the potential that the
disease could combine with other flu strains, including the H5N1 bird flu
The Business Case for Pandemic Plans
A 2008 World Bank study estimated that a severe worldwide influenza
pandemic could cost about $3.1 trillion and shrink the worldwide gross
domestic product (GDP) by 4.8 per cent.(v) This adverse impact is almost four
times the impact of the current economic global recession that will shrink the
global GDP by 1.3 per cent, as estimated by the International Monetary Fund
For individual companies, the biggest cost associated with an influenza
pandemic would be employee absenteeism. It is estimated that some 15 to 30 per
cent of employees would stay home during a moderate to severe pandemic because
of illness, family-care responsibilities, and fear of being infected in the
workplace.(vii) Since employees are the principal profit drivers in most
corporations, prolonged absenteeism would have a significant adverse impact on
a corporation's revenues and profits.
The report highlights that companies capable of preventing absenteeism
during a pandemic will be well-positioned to take away customers and market
share from those that cannot. Even if a severe pandemic never occurs,
suppliers that have a reputation for being prepared may have a distinct
competitive advantage over those that do not.
The Roundtable discussion also highlighted that Canadian companies
regularly purchase insurance against risks like fires even though statistics
based on insurance data in the U.S., Canada and Europe suggest that the
probability of a fire is approximately 1.8 per cent per 100,000 square feet of
commercial facility - significantly lower than the probability of an influenza
pandemic. And, as pandemic risks become more widely accepted, unprepared
companies may find themselves legally liable to their stakeholders - including
shareholders (for potential poor returns), employees (for potential inadequate
or unsafe working conditions) and customers (for potentially breaking
contractual commitments during a pandemic).
"Investment in pandemic preparedness can be viewed as insurance," says
Professor Mawani. "The use of all combined best practices can and must be
evaluated by senior management when employees are the key profit drivers in
About the Schulich Roundtable and Report
The Schulich Roundtable was held on May 6, 2009. Participants included
Canadian-based risk managers and business continuity directors from nine large
corporations in the airline, banking, consulting, mining, real estate,
restaurant, telecommunications and utilities sectors.
The Report on the Corporate Risk Managers Roundtable on Pandemic
Preparedness was funded through an arms-length research grant by Roche Canada.
A copy of the full Schulich School of Business study is available at
About The Schulich School of Business
Known as Canada's Global Business School(TM), the Schulich School of
Business is ranked among the world's leading business schools with programs
year-round on two campuses in Toronto, Canada and in satellite centres in
Beijing and Shanghai, China; Mumbai India; Seoul Korea; and Moscow, Russia.
Schulich offers undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate business degrees and
has over 20,000 alumni working in more than 80 countries. Schulich pioneered
Canada's first International MBA and International BBA degrees, as well as
North America's first-ever cross-border executive MBA degree with the Kellogg
School of Management in Chicago, Illinois. Schulich's Executive Education
Centre provides executive development programs annually to 16,000 executives
in Canada and abroad.
(i) Public Health Agency of Canada, "H1N1 Flu Virus: General
Information." May 25, 2009.
(ii) World Health Organization. Responding to the Avian Influenza
Accessed June 11, 2009
(iii) Wall Street Journal, "As Flu Retreats, Scientists Brace for its
Return." May 28, 2009.
(iv) Associated Press, "Nations urge WHO to change criteria for
pandemic." May 19, 2009.
(v) A. Burns, D. van der Mensbrugghe and H.Timmer, "Evaluating the
Economic Consequences of Avian Influenza."
(vi) International Monetary Fund, "World Economic Outlook: Global
Economy Contracts, with Slow Recovery Next Year." April 22, 2009.
(vii) J. Staples, "Grist: A New Type of Threat" Harvard Business Review,
vol. 84, issue 5, May 2006: 20-22; Business Development Bank of
Canada (BDC Consulting), 2007, What Businesses Need to Know About
Pandemic Flu Planning; Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, 2006,
Influenza Pandemic: Continuity Planning Guide for Canadian
For further information:
For further information: Teresa Pagnutti, Environics Communications
Inc., (416) 969-2721, firstname.lastname@example.org