A global bird flu pandemic would strike hardest Down Under.

Australia is the least prepared for an avian flu pandemic among 38 nations surveyed by Mercer Human Resource Consulting. The online avian flu pandemic preparedness survey, which had 450 respondents globally, found only 35% of Australian businesses that responded had formed crisis management teams to specifically deal with pandemic preparedness planning.

Australia followed the US, which also registered “below-average levels of preparedness across four key indicators to organisational preparedness for a pandemic”. Key indicators were establishing pandemic budgets, implementing skills inventories, forming crisis management teams and developing employee communication strategies. The UK was the most prepared, with 52% of UK respondents forming crisis management teams, followed by China (50%) and Singapore (45%).

Countries affected by the 2003 SARS crisis were generally more advanced in pandemic preparedness planning. In countries not impacted by SARS, planning was in its relative infancy. The Mercer survey said the World Bank had estimated the global economic impact of a human flu pandemic would be $800bn. The 2003 SARS crisis infected only 8,000 people, but cost Asia Pacific economies $40bn. Globally, key considerations for all industries were revenue impact, pandemic budgets, employee absenteeism and customer demand.

Survey responses from insurers globally showed most expected a negative impact on revenue (64%) and the majority had not allocated pandemic budgets (57%). More insurers expected customer demand to be impacted positively (39%) than negatively (36%), and most respondents (71%) said they would allow employees to work from home to reduce absenteeism.

Mercer's survey found many employers supported reviews to increase employee insurance coverage. Policies likely to be reviewed were emergency assistance (47%), business travel (40%), health (37%), disability (31%), life (29%) and salary continuance (26%). Willingness to review employee-related insurance rated higher than increasing compensation. “Combined with the level of organisational support for hygiene and preventive health initiatives... this indicates employers feel a sense of obligation to ensure employees' health and welfare is protected,” the report said.