Create a Flu Preparedness Plan in 10 Steps

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: December 9th, 2013
Topics: Illness Injury Prevention Program |

Even if it weren’t required by the law, employers would be well advised to prepare for pandemic influenza to protect their businesses. Although experts disagree about the impact a pandemic would have (some predict absenteeism as high as 40%; others claim it would likely be about 10% to 15%), businesses that are prepared in advance will clearly have a major advantage.

The 10 Objectives of Preparedness Planning

Objective 1: Getting Organized

The starting point is to organize a team to take charge of planning for your organization:

Step 1: Appoint a pandemic coordinator or create a team to take charge of preparedness and response planning. If you opt for the team approach, include your organization’s safety director, the person in charge of emergency planning (if that person is different) and somebody familiar with labor issues.

Step 2: If you use a team, appoint a senior management official to head the planning team.

Step 3: Get input from labor representatives.

Step 4: Establish contacts to monitor workers’ health in each business unit.

Step 5: Establish a contact to stay in touch with your state and local health authorities and other reliable public sources of information about the influenza situation in the U.S., your state and your community.

Objective 2: Assess Risks

Treat the risk of pandemic influenza like you would any other workplace hazard and conduct a risk assessment. Evaluate how big a threat influenza represents to your organization:

Step 1: Gauge the vulnerability of each business unit, operation and facility. Consider many different scenarios. For example, are there certain facilities of your company that the Health Department might order shut down during a pandemic?

Step 2: Gauge the vulnerability of your business if influenza threatened the viability of any unit, operation and facility. Think of ways—such as opening an alternate facility—to keep operations going with minimal disruption in response to problems that may arise.

Step 3: Consider what role, if any, the government might call on you to play during a crisis. For example, might the government take over parts of your workforce or facility to perform emergency services?

Objective 3: Protect Your Workers’ Health

 Details on health protection measures coming soon in Part 2 on January 22.

Objective 4: Adjust Your Employment Policies

Your current employment policies might not be suitable to address problems that can arise during a pandemic. So you might want to adjust your policies and/or create new ones covering issues such as:

  • Absences of workers who contract the disease;
  • Flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting and hours such as staggered shifts;
  • Use of temporary workers, overtime and cancellation of vacation and other special measures to make up for labor shortfalls;
  • Travel to affected areas both domestic and international;
  • Discipline of workers for failing to follow hygiene or infection control guidelines;
  • Access of workers to health services during an outbreak, including those with special needs; and
  • Replacement of and/or leaves of absences for workers who become infected or have to leave work to tend to family members who get sick.

Objective 5: Plan to Keep the Business Running

To preserve business continuity, you should:

Step 1: List crucial business functions that pandemic influenza might disrupt. Determine which functions are a priority to maintain and which you can do without, if you had to.

Step 2: Identify the skills and personnel needed to keep the priority functions running.

Step 3: Look for alternative sources to replace the skills and personnel associated with such functions on a short-term basis. First consider sources from within your organization, such as the retraining and reassigning of existing workers and bringing retirees back to work. If you need to go outside the organization, make sure you have access to employment agencies and other sources of replacement labor. And in either case, make sure you have the infrastructure to train and absorb replacement/reassigned workers.

Step 4: In lieu of or in conjunction with Step 3, develop a plan to modify, reduce or halt specific functions—or even close the business temporarily–to cope with the impact of a pandemic-related disruption.

Step 5: Establish an organizational structure to coordinate the emergency response and continuity of operations.

Objective 6: Prepare for Supply and Service Disruptions

Continuity planning needs to focus not just on your own business but that of your vital suppliers. The guidelines recommend that you:

Step 1: List all outside suppliers of critical goods, materials and services to your organization.

Step 2: Identify alternative sources for those goods and services and/or start building (or adding to existing) stockpiles and reserves.

Step 3: Make sure your business has access to contingency funds so it can meet payroll, pay its contractors and meet other critical financial obligations.

Objective 7: Prepare for Absences

If there is a pandemic, the most direct effect on employers will likely be in the form of absenteeism. To prepare:

Step 1: Determine the minimum staff you need to maintain critical business functions.

Step 2: Identify the credentials workers need to fill those functions, for example, license to operate heavy machinery.

Step 3: Start looking for sources of labor to meet those needs. Again, consider both internal—bringing back retirees or retraining existing workers—and external sources.

Step 4: Make sure you have an infrastructure to train and support replacement workers.

Objective 8: Establish Lines of Communication with Workers

Develop the means to communicate with your workforce in case of a pandemic.

Step 1: Identify where your company can go to get timely and accurate information about the pandemic situation in your community.

Step 2: Establish a system for briefing workers on developments, both public and within your workplace. Consider hotlines, intranets and dedicated websites.

Step 3: Establish a method for remaining in contact with workers who fall ill or take absences to care for others.

Objective 9: Establish Lines of Communication with Outside Business Relations

During an influenza outbreak, each business will need to maintain communication with certain key customers, partners, suppliers and other business relations. Make sure you know who those key relations are to your own business and establish secure means of communicating with them.

Objective 10: Prepare a Pandemic Influenza Management Plan

The final step is to institutionalize all of your preparedness efforts in a written plan:

Step 1: The planning team should prepare a draft plan documenting your planning efforts and listing the results of all planning decisions undertaken in pursuit of Objectives 1 through 9.

Step 2: Give the draft to senior managers, business unit leaders and the joint health or safety committee or worker representative, if you have one, for internal review.

Step 3: Give the draft to key suppliers, customers, partners and local government and health officials for external review.

Step 4: Adopt appropriate changes in response to each review.

Step 5: Acquaint workers and management with the details of the plan once it’s been approved.

Step 6: Try out a few scenarios or drills to test the plan and adjust it to correct for any weaknesses revealed.


Is the risk of pandemic influenza overblown? Some say yes; some say no. And trying to determine who’s right is way beyond the scope of our expertise.

But here’s something we can tell you. The process of protecting your workforce and preparing your business for an influenza outbreak is a valuable one regardless of what actually happens with avian influenza. Pandemic influenza might turn out to be a false alarm, a second Y2K. But the benefits of planning transcend influenza and any other particular disease. The exercise is about preparing your workforce and business for an emergency—health- or safety-related, natural or man-made. To the extent it has mobilized companies to take action, the risk of pandemic influenza will prove to be a blessing in disguise.

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