Son of Five Rivers Blog

For the advancement of Entrepreneurship, Sustainability & the Ecology of Everyday Life

How to Prepare Your Business for H1N1 Flu

A month ago the Canadain Government put aside $750’000 to help support Small Businesses across the country prepare for H1N1.

The H1N1 flu pandemic (a.k.a. swine flu) could be even worse than the flu pandemic of 1918. Or it could be the Y2K of 2009, just a bunch of hype. Or it could have a strike and ferocity somewhere in between.

As of this writing, the Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that 34,000 to 138,000 Canadians will be hospitalized, another 2-5 million will be treated as outpatients, and as many as 58,000 may die.

A scientific advisory panel sent a report to the White House saying it was possible that anywhere from 30 percent to half the American population could catch what doctors call “2009 H1N1” and that it was also possible there could be between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths (Associated Press).

For businesses, absentee rates are predicted to skyrocket. The International Centre for Infectious Diseases warns of absentee rates hitting 20 percent or more, adding that “cumulatively, a quarter or more of your workforce could be out for as many as three to four months” – with, of course, all the other businesses you rely on facing the same massive absentee rates.

Whether it gets this bad or not, it’s obviously best if your business has a business continuity plan in place to deal with the effects of the expected H1N1 virus upsurge.

Don’t have time to work through a detailed plan for dealing with an H1N1 flu pandemic right now? Just follow the nine steps below and you’ll have a basic business continuity plan to keep your business up and running through the H1N1 flu pandemic crisis.

Business Continuity Plan for Dealing With an H1N1 Flu Pandemic

1) Educate yourself and your employees about swine flu, both the symptoms and possible business consequences. Here’s an information sheet on H1N1 flu virus from You will also find a great deal of information about H1N1 flu in these H1N1 Swine Flu FAQs from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

2) Encourage employees to get H1N1 flu vaccinations when they become available. If your business is large enough, you might even have a flu clinic at your business site. (Note that it is unlikely that the seasonal flu shot will provide protection against H1N1 flu virus (

3) Create ways of teleworking for your business. This will make it easier to encourage employees to stay home when they’re ill. “…if one person comes into work sick then cases could quickly multiply to take out a third of the workforce”, said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer (Pandemic plan help offered to businesses,

Employees who are experiencing H1N1 flu symptoms but still feel up to contributing might be able to telework instead.

It will also make it easier to make allowances for employees who need time off work to care for sick children or parents.

Note to businesses in Calgary and area: Calgary Economic Development has a WorkSHIFT program to foster teleworking that you may be able to participate in.

4) If possible, prepare an isolation area in your place of business in case an employee becomes ill on the job and can’t leave right away.

5) Determine which of your business operations/services are critical and create a deployment plan for other employees to cover these areas if possible.

This is especially hard to do for small businesses, but think of the worst case scenario; how would you keep your business going if you and all your employees were sick with swine flu? If you’re a solo operator, do you at least have a person available who can man the phone and reschedule what’s necessary? If you’re a small retailer, do you have friends or relatives that could pinch hit in a crisis?

6) Step up office hygiene practices.

Ensure that staff is talked to about the importance of proper hand washing and that hand washing signs and instructions are up in all restrooms and staffrooms. (Here’s how to properly wash your hands according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.)

Place hand sanitizers (either wall units or bottles) in strategic places and encourage people to use them.

Make sure all office equipment is cleaned and sanitized regularly, especially shared equipment such as keyboards and phones.

7) Develop a communication plan, such as a call tree and a schedule of communications to make sure that all your employees can be contacted in case of a major event such as your business having to close unexpectedly. Make sure key customers and suppliers are also included in your fan out list.

8) Decide what to do if your regular supplies are cut off. Suppliers and transportation companies could be shut down if the H1N1 flu pandemic causes high rates of absenteeism. How will your business be able to continue operating if this happens? Are there alternate suppliers and/or transporters that could fill in? Will you just delay order fulfillment? If so, for how long?

9. Check out local programs and resources. Your city or town may have programs or resources dedicated to helping businesses deal with the H1N1 flu pandemic. For instance, the city of Ottawa offers an Are You Ready program which provides information on emergency preparedness while the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce has partnered with a local nursing organization to help businesses facilitate the administration of flu vaccines to employees.

More Details on Planning for an H1N1 Flu Pandemic

Want to prepare a more detailed business continuity plan for dealing with the H1N1 virus? With the support of the Public Health Agency of Canada, The International Centre for Infectious Diseases has developed a Pandemic Influenza Planning Tool Kit for Business and Employers to help small and medium-sized businesses prepare for the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. It includes detailed checklists for managing every aspect of your business before, during and after the H1N1 flu pandemic hits.

The American federal government also offers a collection of resources to help businesses plan for an H1N1 flu pandemic at


September 9, 2009 - Posted by | Business, Human Resources

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