State businesses learn about pandemic plans - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

State businesses learn about pandemic plans


MADISON (WKOW) -- We've heard about schools closing because of high absentee rates, due to flu-like symptoms.  That has a statewide organization wondering about workplaces, in light of the H1N1 virus.

Of course, we've already heard the standard advice.  Keep our distance from others, and wash our hands often.

"We've put out hand sanitizer, we've done hand washing clinics," said Mark Winchester, the environmental health and safety manager for Rockwell Automation.  "Our employees understand how to wash hands effectively."

Rockwell Automation has about 40,000 workers worldwide. About four thousand of those work at facilities in Richland Center and Milwaukee, said Winchester, who lately said it appears more employees are calling in sick.

"Anytime when you have a number of employees out of the workplace, it does disrupt production."

That concern had him and others attending a seminar, hosted by the Wisconsin Safety Council on Friday.

"You need to cross-train people to fill those slots," said pandemic expert Kevin Wilson, who led much of the seminar.

Wilson said each business is different.  Some may have to shut down if as few as ten-percent of workers fall ill.  "For other companies, that number is 25-percent of their workforce, and they can still operate," Wilson said.

Most businesses have contingency plans for such an episode, according to WSC director Bryan Roessler, they've just never been tested.

"A few years ago, we had actually talked about a potential pandemic with the bird flu," said Roessler.  "So we've really worked with our members, getting them engaged in this issue for the event that a national pandemic does come, or a statewide pandemic."

That's advice that Madison Gas and Electric formally adopted last month, according to spokesperson Steve Kraus.

Kraus said a succession plan was put in place for H1N1 to fill-in critical positions like call center employees and front-line repair workers.  He said the prior contingency plans dealt more with situations like accidents that would affect its power plant of headquarters near downtown Madison.

Businesses are largely unable to tell us how many absences they've had this season, citing health privacy laws.  So far, none of the WSC's business members had to close for a day or longer because of illness, said Roessler.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Representatives from about two dozen Wisconsin businesses gathered Friday morning to learn the latest on the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, as well as learn what to do when employee absentee rates become too high to conduct business.

Bryan Roessler, the director of WMC's Wisconsin Safety Council, said that other than schools, no member businesses have had to actually close for a day or more.

Mark Winchester, the employee health and safety manager with Rockwell Automation, said he has noticed an uptick in workers calling in sick.  The manufacturer has about 40,000 workers, including more than 4,000 at facilities in Milwaukee and Richland Center.

Speakers at the meeting advised companies to dust off pandemic and contingency plans they first crafted during the bird flu scare earlier this decade.

Carl Agnelly will have more details, including plans some businesses have put in place, and questions they still want answered, on and 27 News beginning at 5 p.m.

Email Carl Agnelly at

Follow Carl Agnelly on Twitter.

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