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Beat the pandemic

17 August 09

How the Society is planning to counter an outbreak of H1N1 (swine flu), together with some practical points to help solicitors prepare for or deal with a flu outbreak

by George Samson, Bruce Ritchie

To set the scene, here is a little background to the Society’s plan for dealing with difficult situations regarding its operations.

At the Society we maintain a contingency and disaster recovery plan. The plan is kept up to date on a departmental basis by contingency plan administrators (CPAs), whose task it is to maintain contact lists, update local plans for function changes and ensure all departmental staffs are updated. Each department has a plan for cascading information, and departmental battle boxes are stored offsite.

There is an overarching plan maintained by the Director, Facilities, and the Society has contracted with a disaster recovery organisation where our IT systems can be rebuilt quickly and where a small number of staff will be based, while the majority will either work from home or from a business centre.

The event, should it occur, will be managed by a crisis team, and several test runs have been undertaken to train crisis team managers.

Infection control

In the case of H1N1 the threat has been highlighted at review meetings during the last two months by the Director, Facilities with the CPAs, who have each been tasked with bringing the matter to the attention of their departments, especially with regard to absence rates both at the Society and in supplier organisations where failure to supply may have an impact on the Society’s performance.

Human resource policies have also been reviewed.

Staff will not visit organisations where H1N1 has been identified until the Society is notified the infection has passed.

If infection rates continue to grow, the Society will utilise its audio and video conferencing facilities to link council and committee members and maintain services, while reducing the travel and group infection risks.

In parallel with the above, other means of infection control have been introduced to the Society, in that the cleaners disinfect all door handles and hard surfaces daily and antibacterial gels have been installed in toilet areas. Small gel packs have been issued to staff where they are tasked outwith the offices. Notices have been put up within the toilets asking people to wash their hands, and Government leaflets downloaded from the NHS website have been attached to all notice boards.

Government advice on infection control and the need for good personal hygiene has been well publicised. The various NHS websites offer excellent guidance.

In conclusion, the contingency and disaster recovery planning structures will provide good distribution of information and monitoring. The Society’s intranet will also be used to distribute NHS guidance as it becomes available.

George Samson is Director, Central Services (Administration) at the Societyt



Help at hand

Bruce Ritchie offers some practical points to help prepare for or deal with a flu outbreak

There is much discussion in the media about coping with problems caused by a significant number of staff being absent at any one time or with closure of buildings such as schools. Fortunately the condition is mild at this time, but members should bear the following in mind over the coming months:

Sole practitioners and small firms

Irrespective of the possibility of swine flu, it is always worth having a mutual arrangement with another solicitor’s firm to cover for holidays or illness affecting the principal solicitor(s) if there are no qualified assistants in the practice. Such a “buddy system” will allow sole practitioners in particular to stay away from the office to recover from illness without the risk of infecting others or making their own illness worse.

The Society’s locum register

The Society’s Registrar’s Department maintains a locum register from which a solicitor can usually be found to fill a temporary gap caused by illness or holidays. If you yourself are not in employment at the moment, you can contact the Department (moragrobb@ or 0131 476 8178) to get on the register.

Duty to the court

If there is an outbreak of flu preventing anyone in a firm from attending court for a client’s case, try to agree with the other side or the procurator fiscal to have the case continued or adjourned to a later date. If you are unable to do that, contact another local agent or an agency solicitor to appear, even if only to explain your absence and seek a continuation or adjournment if they have insufficient information or time to deal with the hearing themselves.

Clients in custody

If there is an outbreak of flu in a prison leading to restrictions on visits, solicitors should decline requests from clients for a custody visit until the restrictions are lifted. Even if the outbreak has not caused restrictions on visits, solicitors would be entitled to defer visiting a client in custody until the outbreak is over rather than expose themselves and their families and staff to the risk of infection.

Bruce Ritchie, Director, Professional Practice Departmentt

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