Aon: Planning, Communications Will Keep Real Risk of Ebola in Perspective

October 29, 2014

With concerns growing in the U.S. over Ebola exposure — New York City confirmed its first case of Ebola Thursday, Oct. 23 — an executive from Aon plc advised it’s important for businesses to engage in thoughtful planning and careful communications to help keep the real risk of Ebola in perspective.

“We are getting a lot of inquiries from around the world, touching a wide range of industries,” Randy Nornes, executive vice president at Aon Risk Solutions, told Insurance Journal.

“Many of these initial calls are related to policies, procedures, communication and planning. As an example, many organizations want help in developing a communication strategy for employees and customers in the event they have to deal with situations involving Ebola exposure.”

Aon recently activated the Aon Ebola Response Task Force, a team comprised of risk and health professionals, to monitor the current Ebola outbreak and provide guidance to its clients.

The risk of transmission is very low, but the abundance of caution leads to much greater impact.

Nornes said companies have found that employees have had very incidental exposure on flights or, in the recent New York case, on the subway. “Employees have approached their employer and explained the situation. We know of several instances where employers have granted a three-week paid leave to avoid impact on other employees and customers,” he said.

“Or what happens if someone who has been exposed to Ebola stays in your hotel, flies airplane or is living in your apartment building?” he asked. “We have seen in the Dallas incident the ripple effect from one patient that ultimately impacts the hospital, transportation, schools and many people. The risk of transmission is very low, but the abundance of caution leads to much greater impact.”

“I think this presents a good opportunity to revisit contingency plans that they have developed in the past — think about any unique issues that may arise from Ebola,” said Nornes.

“I think the bigger issue is not so much liability but the fear of the unknown and the broader impact on operations,” he said. “If your hospital encounters an infected patient, how would other patients think about using your hospital? How do employees think about coming to work? We’ve seen cleaning staff raise concerns with airlines due to safety concerns.”

“Colleges and universities are making plans to address students returning from break from around the world. There are many examples of organizations taking steps to alleviate employee and customer concerns,” he said.

Nornes added, “So it’s really a question of how do you manage these perceptions and continue to operate a business? I haven’t seen people changing travel plans or dropping airline bookings for vacations — so we are not anywhere near a noticeable impact on business. However, there are real steps being taken to adjust operations and address the public’s concerns. Thoughtful planning and careful communications will help keep the real risk of Ebola in perspective.”

“It’s important to be able to walk people through key issues around supply chain disruption, employee communication and external communication,” he advised.

“I can’t stress the communication piece enough,” said Nornes. “Thinking through in advance — if your organization somehow connects up with an individual who has Ebola — what’s the communication strategy? How are you going to communicate with anyone from customers, employees, as well as the broader public?”

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Update on Ebola in U.S.: New CDC Protocols, Rapid Response Team, Czar
Is Ebola Compensable Under Workers’ Compensation?

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