ORC Sightlines

February 2006

Experts Warn Companies: Prepare Now for Flu Pandemic

The “just in time” global delivery system, now a hallmark of the world’s economy, exposes companies and workers to potentially crippling consequences when the next flu strikes, according to Michael Osterholm, PhD, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) and associate director of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Center for Food Protection and Defense.

Dr. Osterholm, who spoke Feb. 7 at ORC Worldwide’s Occupational Safety and Health Physicians Group Meeting in Washington, D.C., warned that a flu pandemic is certain and praised ORC consultant Ann Brockhaus for providing timely leadership on the issue. “It’s not a question of ‘if,’ but of ‘when,’” Dr. Osterholm asserted. “Pandemics are like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis—they occur.”

Speaking the next day to ORC’s OSH Group for occupational safety and health managers, Julie Gerberding, MD, concurred. Dr. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimated that one in three people could become infected in a flu pandemic, killing two million Americans and placing three quarters of a million people in intensive care units with ventilators—far beyond the nation’s current health care capacity. Companies and communities must prepare to be “self-contained,” Dr. Gerberding advised, because, unlike a hurricane, a pandemic would strike everywhere, hindering the ability of one region to help another.

Dr. Osterholm predicted that the economic consequences of a pandemic are likely to be immediate, profound, and universal. With just-in-time strategies having reduced inventories to the minimum, the entire global supply chain will be disrupted. He and Dr. Gerberding both advised attendees to address business continuity plans and logistics as they prepare for the next flu pandemic. In fact, conversations with some of the members of ORC’s Senior HR Officers Networks indicate that, in a number of companies, assessing preparedness and developing plans have become serious priorities in recent weeks.

The CDC has developed a checklist to help companies in this process, available online. Dr. Gerberding also invited business leaders at the meeting to participate in CDC’s global health protection network in order to have quick access to critical health information. “A large number of corporate entities are now linked to us electronically,” she said. “I’d like to hear from any of you who would like to be included in our list for real-time information dissemination.”

Further information is available on the CIDRAP Web site at http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/. The CDC has created a Web site dedicated to avian flu information at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/. The official U.S. government Web site for information on pandemic flu and avian influenza is available at http://www.pandemicflu.gov/

For more information on the pandemic flu issue or on ORC’s networks for occupational safety and health professionals and physicians, contact Ann Brockhaus at 202-293-2980.

Global Diversity Execs Find Changing Attitudes; Growing Sexual Harassment Issues in Asia

At the first meeting of ORC’s Global Diversity Forum, representatives from 20 multinational companies discussed the trends and issues most affecting their worldwide diversity and inclusion efforts. Members highlighted the pressing need for global programs to train their workforces on diversity issues and to provide developmental opportunities for underrepresented groups and local nationals. Interestingly, they noted a change in attitudes towards race outside the US. Until recently, managers and employees in many parts of the world considered racial discrimination to be a uniquely US issue and, in fact, were often frustrated by the attention their companies paid to the subject, which they considered irrelevant to them. However, GDF members are now observing a dramatic increase in awareness of race issues outside the US. Similarly, greater openness to gay and lesbian rights is emerging in many parts of the world, with the result that GLBT employees are often among the most vocal advocates for global diversity programs.

Even as these issues move forward, many multinationals continue to focus their global diversity efforts on increasing opportunities for people with disabilities and for women. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sexual harassment is a growing issue, especially in Asia, where government is beginning to take a more active role. China has recently enacted new legislation that stipulates that sexual harassment is against the law and that men and women should be treated equally in workplace situations (although it does not prescribe penalties). In Japan, where sexual harassment is also reported to be a serious issue, the government is undertaking a campaign to increase awareness.

The GDF will hold its next meeting on July 11, 2006, at NIKE, Inc.’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Companies interested in membership information should contact Liz MacGillivray or Deirdre Golden.

ORC Resources: Balancing Cost and Expectations of Repatriation

In “Repatriation: Balancing Cost and Expectations,”recently published in Relocation Today, Virginia McMorrow reviews data from ORC’s Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices on how companies handle repatriation of employees upon conclusion of their international assignments. The major concern for returning expatriates is usually whether they will have a job with the company when they get back to the home country. Half of the companies in the survey do not make any guarantees. Other angst-causing issues include how much time employees will be given to pack and who will pay for the various expenses involved in moving home. McMorrow advises “compromise and flexibility on both sides…to smooth the transition for the expatriate and family.” The full article is available in ORC’s Reading Room.

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