If you’re responsible for managing your company’s risk, you know how a global pandemic can impact your operations from top to bottom. But what about other forms of biorisk – how much of a threat do they pose to your business? And now that the COVID-19 emergency is over, how much risk could another global pandemic spell for you?
What is a biorisk?
Biorisks fall into several broad categories, but they all involve living organisms that can negatively impact your employees, your business continuity and your bottom line. We think about biorisks in four large categories:
- Infectious diseases such as winter respiratory viruses, Ebola viruses and stomach flu
- Environmental events such as heat waves, air quality problems and flooding
- Infrastructure events such as electrical grid outages and hospital evacuations
- Geopolitical events such as refugee movement and civil unrest
Each of these biorisk categories can create unhealthy environments that allow diseases to grow and pose significant risk to humans.
The everyday threat of known illnesses
One biorisk that’s often overlooked by risk officers is the threat of known illnesses. Flus, colds and Strep throat are an ever-present problem, costing American businesses millions of dollars in sick days and lost productivity each year. In recent years, outbreaks of known illnesses such as measles, mumps and whooping cough have also increased. Due to the growing anti-vaccination movement in the US, previously rare illnesses, particularly childhood illnesses, have made a resurgence.
Business leaders, however, can certainly take steps to minimize the impact of these threats. These may include sanitation, vaccination policies, sick day policies and workplace educational campaigns.
The constant potential for novel diseases
We also face the risk of emerging diseases that can pose new biorisks. Dr. Anthony Fauci has cited zoonotic diseases (those spread from animals to humans) as a leading type of novel biorisk. However, new diseases can also emerge via environmental contamination (unintentional or intentional), human travel, healthcare disparities, and even technological advancements.
COVID-19 is perhaps the most widely known novel disease today. However, recent decades have seen the rise of around 40 new diseases, many of them zoonotic. This trend is only expected to increase in years to come. When it comes to assessing the likely impact of an emerging disease, relying on official news briefings is not enough.
Biorisks driven by climate change
The emergence of novel diseases is exacerbated by climate change. Experts anticipate that due to climate changes, many diseases both new and old will see higher rates of infection and outbreaks. Researchers cite many reasons for this increase, including:
- More highly adaptable pathogens
- Demographic and population shifts that increase transmission rates
- Increasing ranges for mosquitoes and other vectors
- The rise of climate-related synergists (such as higher temperatures and rainfall) that promote the spread of disease
Climate change is poised to profoundly alter life on earth as we know it in the years and decades to come.
Natural disasters and their biological implications
Tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and wildfires have always threatened our world, but climate change has made them more prevalent and severe – and that trend will only worsen over time. When natural disasters strike, they leave chaos in their wake. Homes are destroyed, families are torn apart, and daily life is severely disrupted. Unfortunately, natural disasters often bring about a spike in infectious disease outbreaks, too. A 2012 article explored the strong connection between these disasters and the spread of diseases such as:
- Respiratory infections
The researchers also explored natural disasters’ connection to several other diseases. Ultimately, they advised that early risk management and control measures are the best way to minimize the impact of post-disaster outbreaks.
The threat of biological warfare and bad actors
Should your business really be concerned about the potential for biological warfare or biological terrorism? The answer is yes. Although the current likelihood of a bioterrorism event or bioattack is low, these would have far-reaching consequences that would profoundly impact your enterprise. Preparedness for any event is the only way to reduce risk.
Many experts expect anthrax as the most likely culprit of the next bioterrorism attack, and other possibilities include smallpox, the plague, and cholera. However, these experts also warn about the possible rise of bioterrorism using gene editing technology in years to come.
How the PHC Global Threat Tracker helps you manage biorisks
You can’t eliminate the threat of biorisks to your business. However, the PHC Global Threat Tracker can help you with early warning and time to make adjustments to your business. You can track a single location – or all of them. Through the Pharos system, you will know when threat levels change and what strategies our experts recommend.
Watch a demo to learn more about PHC Global and the PHC Pharos Platform.