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Risk in Context

A Global Health Emergency: 5 Steps to Address the Zika Virus Outbreak

Posted by Chandra Seymour February 02, 2016

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday declared the Zika virus outbreak a global public health emergency, thus prioritizing resources to manage its rapid spread. The WHO did not recommend travel or trade restrictions at this time. However, as evidenced by its placement among the top 10 risks in terms of impact for risk leaders and experts in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risks Report 2016, the spread of infectious diseases such as Zika is a key concern for organizations.

Should You Be Concerned?

Although Zika appears to pose the most threat to pregnant women, where links to brain defects in children is strongly suspected, employers should encourage all employees working in or traveling to affected countries to be aware of the virus and its symptoms.

The ability for diseases to spread rapidly, jeopardize social and economic security, and endanger human health is amplified by rapid globalization, increased trade and travel, rising urbanization, and changes in the environment, behavior, and society, according to the Global Risks Report.

Zika’s implications for global businesses remain to be seen. A number of industries — including hospitality, real estate, sports, entertainment, and airlines — may face direct exposures if people begin canceling travel plans or if employees become infected.

What You Can Do Right Now

Along with working with insurance advisors to understand how insurance policies may apply, you can better prepare for infectious disease risk by:

  1. Reviewing company policies on travel, hygiene, medical screening, and health support, including the provision of anti-virals, alcohol-based anti-bacterial sanitizer, masks, and items such as recommended insect repellants.
  2. Providing personnel in high-risk areas with basic safety and awareness tips. For Zika, this includes using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeves and pants, and staying in air conditioned places or those that use window and door screens.
  3. Reviewing methods for providing ongoing information about the viral threat and the status of business operations to employees at work and at home.
  4. Addressing the continuity requirements to keep vital operations going, including ways to minimize exposure to and the spread of illness in the workplace.
  5. Reviewing the corporate structure necessary to manage the consequences of a potential outbreak, including implementing multiple business continuity and response plans, coping with a major increase in the number of employees working from home or unable to work, and addressing business strategy and operational impacts due to substantial changes to the marketplace and supply chain.

Take the time to review your risk management, business continuity, and other response and crisis management plans to help ensure they address the risks presented by current virus outbreaks and future occurrences.

Related to:  Marsh Risk Consulting

Chandra Seymour

Senior Vice President, MRC Reputational Risk and Crisis Management