The Ebola epidemic has been ravaging West Africa and media headlines alike, but what is the risk to the UK?
Public Health England states that the risk of Ebola in the UK is low. Not only that but the risk of transmission within the UK is very low, due to the implementation of screening procedures and containment strategies. Should any cases of Ebola arise in the UK, such as the recent health worker returning from Sierra Leone, then we are well prepared
However, the outbreak in Africa has not been brought under control, and cases in Sierra Leone are continuing. Any deterioration in the situation in West Africa, or an increase in the number of travellers returning from affected areas, could increase the risk of an imported case.
So whilst this doesn’t mean we should panic its a reminder that businesses need to protect and prepare themselves for this or any other epidemic?
How can Ebola affect your Business?
Obviously, at this stage the businesses most affected by the Ebola outbreak are those that require travel to the affected areas. The general advice here is that all but essential travel is postponed.
The greater risk to businesses is the fear of Ebola, rather than Ebola itself. In the US, fear of infection has kept children home from school, customers away from shops (notably a bowling alley and a wedding shop with known contact with the virus have seen a marked reduction in customers). And it is this fear of infection which could affect both the staff and customers.
What steps can Businesses take to reduce the impact of Ebola?
The most important way to minimise the impact on your business is to communicate clearly with your staff.
Assume a high fear factor – frightening media coverage, severe symptoms and a high death rate will make people much more afraid of coming into contact with this disease than, say, the influenza virus, even though the latter is much more easily contracted.
What information should a Business provide to its staff?
As a guideline make sure your workforce understands, and has access to:
1. Clear information on Ebola including
- what is Ebola,
- how Ebola is spread,
- the symptoms of Ebola,
- the low risk within the UK
2. What should your Business Emergency Preparedness Plan, include
- Communicating with other employees
- Setting up an isolation room
- Transporting ill employees to the appropriate medical authorities
- Protecting employees who come into contact with those who are ill
- Setting up a disinfecting programme
- Monitoring contact traving
Where can you find accurate information on Ebola?
There are many sources of up-to-date information provided by government organisations. These include
- The Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation websites
- Local office of emergency management
- Local public health services
What crucial information should Businesses identify?
The most important information for your organisation to convey to staff how to identify anyone infected with Ebola early and what steps they should take to minimise the spread of the disease in the workplace.
What other contingency steps you can take?
• Encourage good basic hygiene, particularly hand-washing. Ensure you have suitable facilities.
• Review any flexible work arrangements e.g. working from home or teleworking policies, in case of high levels of absenteeism.
• Talk to your insurance carrier to determine if your business interruption insurance policy will pay for an Ebola virus outbreak in each of your business locations. You might decide to enhance coverage if possible.
• Meet with your mission-critical suppliers to ensure that they have emergency preparedness plans in place. Knowing when and how they will contact your organization of their own Ebola virus outbreak and how that will impact your ability to deliver your products/services is critical to maintaining your business operations and meeting your business obligations.
There is no immediate danger of an Ebola outbreak, and the likelihood a UK business will be affected by the disease is incredibly small. But being prepared, and communicatingyour preparedness to your staff, will give them the confidence to continue working to the best of their ability.