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MANAGING BEST PRACTICES: Brass ring or the old thing?

March 1, 2008
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For every threat there is an opportunity. Such is the case with a pandemic influenza. The threat is obvious, but do you see the opportunity? Consider the two scenarios below and then choose which opportunity you would rather seize.

Scenario A

Safety pro: “Hey boss, I’m getting us ready to address a possible pandemic flu. I’ve put some additional ‘wash your hands’ signs in the bathrooms, developed a training program to show employees how to cough into the crook of their arm and not their hand, and I have been telling employees they will have to keep a minimum distance of three feet from each other if the flu comes.

“I also impressed the customer rep from Top Sprockets. He asked me what plans we had to control a flu outbreak. I told him about the new signs in the bathroom and that we may not shake hands anymore. Our company’s new form of greeting would be a salute to help control the spread of germs. What do you think, boss?

Boss: “Are you sure all employees will wash their hands?”

Safety pro: “Boss, I’m heading out to the bathroom right now to enforce this practice.”

Scenario B

Safety pro: “Excuse me, boss. I calculated the financial consequences to our business in the event of a pandemic influenza. Lost revenue is estimated at 7.6 percent or about $1.36 million. “We can prevent revenue loss by meeting the practices outlined in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC’s) Business Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist. A gap analysis shows we completed 23 percent of these practices. Here’s an Excel spreadsheet to show how we can close the gap to 55 percent within the next six months.

“We’ll need senior management support to fully close the gap, which may take another 18 months to complete. A customer rep from Top Sprockets asked me about our flu control plan. I told him we are establishing a pandemic contingency plan based upon the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommendations. The plan includes bringing back retirees to operate critical equipment and using company vehicles, as necessary, to keep an uninterrupted flow of products to his company.

“What do you think, boss?”

Boss: I think our executive management committee would like to hear about your findings and recommendations. I will set up a meeting with the committee next week in the boardroom. Are you familiar with the boardroom layout?

Safety pro: Boss, I’m heading to the boardroom now to check it out.”

Bathroom or boardroom?

The threat of a pandemic flu, or similar event, provides an opportunity for health/safety pros to step into a broader business role rather than be held within narrow technical boundaries. The chance for having an involvement and influence on all aspects of your employer’s business is tremendous.

The question is, “Do you want to reach for the brass ring?”

If so, and if scenario B is more to your liking, then you will need to get your foot in upper management’s door. The following steps will help you get started.

Step 1 — Learn the business aspect of a pandemic flu.
At a minimum, thoroughly understand the information in the Department of Homeland Security’s document, “Pandemic Influenza Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Guide for Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources.” This document is found at http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/pdf/cikrpandemicinfluenzaguide.pdf.

Step 2 — Talk money.
Nothing gets management’s attention more than telling them what something may cost or how much money can be saved. GlaxoSmithKline has developed a “Risk Management Calculator” to estimate the economic consequences of a pandemic flu upon a company. This calculator is found at http://www.pandemicplan.gsk.com/calculator.html.

You may either use assumptions built into the calculator or use company-specific financial data. The use of company-specific data is preferable.

Step 3 — Quantify what must be done.
Managers like numbers. You will get their attention easier and quicker by giving them a figure such as, “We’re only 20 percent of where we need to be” rather than describing what has been done and what needs to be done. To develop a pandemic flu “gap analysis” score go to http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/pdf/businesschecklist.pdf. Score your company’s progress on this checklist by giving a score of 1 for “completed,” 0.5 for “in progress” and no points for “not started.” Put the score into a percent complete.

Step 4 — Use a spreadsheet.
When managers see data come from a software program or spreadsheet it gives them confidence that a plan is sophisticated rather than developed off-the-cuff. The PDF checklist in Step 3 above can be found developed as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet file example at http://www.fluready.net/. Download the file and begin populating specific data for your company.

Step 5 — Draft a written plan.
Contingency plans for the pandemic flu can be complex in their entirety, but are easy to start if you have a template to begin with. One such template, built in Microsoft Word, is found at http://knoxcounty.org/health/emer_prepare/docs/kc_health_business_plan.doc.

Use the global “find and replace” function in Word to begin tailoring the plan to your company. The plan’s growth and direction depends on what your company wants to accomplish. The information found in the document in Step 1 will help you populate the plan.

Where do the steps lead?

What do you find when these steps are developed? Most of the activities necessary to fully prepare a worksite for a pandemic flu are business-related rather than a direct occupational health or safety activity. Still, the reason all of this is done is that health and safety, among workers and others, is jeopardized because of the flu exposure. Who then should direct a worksite flu contingency plan? Why not you?

Excuses

Many excuses can be given for a health/safety pro to forego the opportunity that a pandemic flu provides: too busy, outside comfort zone, or you won’t get management support. Think twice before you use the last excuse. Some pros predict a lack of support because they struggle with this category in the worksite safety and health program. But consider what was said in scenario B. Besides a direct impact to the bottom line, good customer relations are a strong business motivator. And if what you are doing shows value to senior management, they may free up your time on day-to-day safety program activities to focus on what they may believe is a bigger prize (or risk).

Overdue

Experts say the world is overdue for a pandemic flu, although no one knows for sure when such an event will occur. If you feel you are overdue in getting just recognition for the work you perform, perhaps stretching your abilities to direct a pandemic flu contingency plan for your employer may provide rewards you seek. Opportunities such as this are rare for health/safety pros.

Business will continue to establish and refine contingency plans for a pandemic flu or similar event. And when a pandemic occurs, businesses without such plans will scramble to put one in place. One way or another, in your capacity as a health/safety pro you will most likely be pulled into working part of an employer’s pandemic contingency plan.

Why not bite the bullet now and set the stage for calling the shots yourself on the key portions of this plan?

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Recent Articles by Dan Markiewicz, MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM

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