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Preventing the potential outbreak of contagious illnesses

‘Winter is Here’ bringing with it the increased risk of contagious illnesses including influenza. To date, the 2019 flu season has resulted in an increased number of cases compared to last year with August set to see the peak of cases.

Whilst the use of recommended hygiene practices and vaccines can aid in the prevention and spread of such diseases, it is inevitable organisations will see a greater amount of staff calling in sick during this period. Since July 2019, there have been more than 177,360 cases of the flu Australia-aide, with NSW and QLD reporting the greatest number of confirmed cases. Additionally, a recent spate of measles infections is on track to make 2019 Australia’s second-highest year for reported cases since 1997.

If diagnosed with influenza, a person can expect symptoms such as: fever and chills, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, joint pains, headache, fatigue, nausea. If diagnosed with measles, an individual can expect symptoms such as: fever, tiredness, a rash covering the body, and in severe cases, people will develop ear infections, diarrhoea and may require hospitalisation.

How could an outbreak impact your organisation?

An outbreak can impact your organisation in a number of ways, with many having a domino effect. For example: a reduction in the workforce leads to a decrease in output capacity, potentially leading to loss of revenue. For small to medium businesses – due to limited cash reserves, an outbreak could affect their financial viability. Large organisations and enterprises may not be able to deliver on services, resulting in reputational loss – leading to a loss of consumers and suppliers – essentially affecting its’ share price.

If impacted, will your organisation cope?

The complications of viral outbreak extends beyond the individuals affected. Reductions in the workforce could also occur for the following reasons – employees caring for sick family members, caring for children due to school closures or simply staying away for fear of contamination.

Impacts can be immediate and expensive. Effective recovery can be time consuming if not properly planned. Therefore, it is essential for organisations to have a business continuity plan that can be readily applied to these situations, or any situation that could potentially cause a major business disruption. A robust business continuity plan should not only address the recovery of technology and facilities, but place a large emphasis on the human component.

What can your organisation do to mitigate risk?

High impact viral infections like measles and the Flu can be prevented thrush the communication of good hygiene practices and preventative measures such as vaccination programs.

Measles

  • Ensure that you have had the appropriate immunization
  • Two doses of measles containing vaccines should be given at least 4 weeks apart
  • It is safe to have the vaccine more than twice, so people who are unsure should be vaccinated
  • People who have been diagnosed with the measles should stay home until they are no longer contagious – i.e. 4 days after the rash starts

Influenza

  • Get the annual flu shot
  • Sneeze into your elbow
  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly, especially after sneezing or coughing and using the bathroom
  • If you believe that you are unwell or may have been exposed to someone who has influenza, see your GP immediately and do not come into work

Your organisation can mitigate risk by:

  • Expanding on your Business Impact Analysis to include outbreaks. “The Business Impact Assessment is the shared foundation stone of any good Business Continuity Plan. Through BIAs, each team member critically evaluates their business processes and the priority of that process during recovery. The interconnected nature of your business defines the goals along the path to achieving business recovery”, says Ben Patrick – Regional Manager at RiskLogic.
  • Don’t wait on instructions from authorities. If you detect a hint of an outbreak, some areas of your plan may be implemented.
  • Train, drill and exercise. A business continuity plan is meaningless if it cannot be implemented at the time of the crisis. One key area of success is to have a fully trained organisation – this can typically be achieved by involving second/third level stakeholders and even external agencies in drills and exercises.
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