Informing healthcare workers about risks

A significant number of healthcare workers do not report for work in the third week of a severe influenza pandemic, due to a misperception of the risks they face. This is what is suggested in a study by the Canada Research Chair in Risk Management at HEC Montréal, which recommends rectifying the situation by providing information and education on risk perception.


Nearly 4,000 health workers from the island of Montréal participated in a web survey on their perception of various risks. Processing the responses shed further light on the links between this perception and the willingness to report for work during an influenza pandemic.


The presence of healthcare workers at work during an influenza pandemic is actually linked to their perception of risks associated with personal and work activities.

  • Only 52% of the respondents said they would report for work in the worst scenario proposed by the survey (more than 85,000 patients in Montréal and 160 deaths, including 8 among healthcare workers). In less severe situations, presence at work would be higher than 88%.
  • The main barriers to willingness to report for work are the desire to protect one’s personal health (50%) and that of family members (36%).
  • Opinions of the respondents could change if the risk issue were to become more social, and less personal: 45% of healthcare workers who did not intend to report for work would reverse their decision in the event of a severe manpower shortage.


  • Knowing the healthcare workers’ perception of different risks is an important resource allocation instrument for unanticipated pandemics because risk perception seems to be a good predictor of presence at work.
  • The misperception of risks can be corrected with information and education programs. Better knowledge of risks would improve resource allocation not only during an influenza pandemic, but also for many current risks.
  • Several organizational factors should also be taken into consideration. These include, for example, sanitary measures at work, determination of each worker’s role during an influenza pandemic, and coordination of their transportation, based on the needs of the institutions.
  • Intervention strategies should also take into account healthcare workers’ risk behavior.


Georges Dionne

"Further research must treat the affective domain in risk perception (fear and anxiety) more explicitly, in order to develop better intervention tools." 

Georges Dionne, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Risk Management


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