ILO Online: What is the current status of influenza A (H1N1)?
Alfredo Lazarte-Hoyle: H1N1 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in June 2009. As of 17 October 2009, more than 414,000 laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1 and nearly 5,000 deaths have been reported to the WHO. The virus has continued to spread and in the coming flu season, combined with regular influenza, could affect millions of people and put a large strain on health systems worldwide. No one can tell how severely the current pandemic will affect workers and their families, but the potential impact is high. It is important to take every possible measure to prevent the spread of the disease. Being prepared for the worst while hoping for the best is a good principle.
ILO Online: How could it impact the world of work?
Alfredo Lazarte-Hoyle: The quick spread of H1N1 has led to concern about the impact of influenza outbreaks on businesses and employees. Large absentee rates can disrupt businesses. Lower productivity and decline in economic sectors involving close contacts such as tourism, leisure activities and retail shopping can harm society and economies. This impact could have an even greater effect on the economic activities of developing countries. It is thus important to ensure business continuity and the functioning of critical services.
ILO Online: What do you man by business continuity planning, and who does it apply to?
Alfredo Lazarte-Hoyle: Business continuity means that essential business functions should be able to survive disruptions; therefore, the ILO has compiled a model business continuity plan which aims at supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in their effort to develop emergency plans to protect their workers and businesses from the consequences of the pandemic. The ILO plans to refine this model to help organizations in the most vulnerable economic sectors identify the risks that might affect their business, devise strategies to reduce their impact and prepare for immediate recovery.
ILO Online: How can the ILO contribute to reducing the impact of the virus on the world of work and promote business continuity planning?
Alfredo Lazarte-Hoyle: The ILO has established a task force to address the critical issues raised by the recent influenza outbreak in relation to the world of work. The Task Force on Influenza and Pandemic Preparedness, comprises representatives of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Association (IUF) and Public Services International (PSI). It looks at socio-economic issues deriving from this crisis, aims primarily at sharing information and raising awareness on the work-related implications of this threat.
ILO Online: What was the focus of the ILO Workshop on business continuity planning?
Alfredo Lazarte-Hoyle: The workshop is focusing on the challenges faced by those economic sectors most at risk of being impacted by the pandemic, and will propose possible solutions to enhance their capability to respond to its threats, particularly the need to plan for business continuity to protect enterprises, workers and the surrounding communities; the necessary adaptation of generic preparedness plans to the specific nature of diverse businesses, with particular regards to four areas: risk analysis, risk reduction, response actions, communications; and recommended actions to prevent major damages to businesses and help limit the eventual negative impacts.