With a surge of coronavirus cases around the world, new reports of workplace closures due to fear of exposure are emerging outside of coronavirus-epicenter, China, and outbreak hotspots like Hong Kong, South Korea, and Italy.
While most governments haven’t yet counseled workplace closures, it’s important for PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking) to plan for the eventuality, specifically for the potential impact of the coronavirus to the health and safety of their workers. What’s there to do?
For starters, preparing and putting flexible protocols in place proves the best way to keep employees safe and maintain your duty of care obligation – take the healthcare and travel industries, for instance, where we’re seeing strong mobilizations owing to the outsized safety risk those workers face.
For PCBUs in other industries, expert consensus leans towards immediately activating existing crisis management protocols. Not just that. If you haven’t yet, convene your Crisis or Incident Assessment team. There should be a Safety representative on it already. But if there isn’t, ensure there is strong Safety representation on the core team.
Also, agree to meet regularly – at this point, daily team meetings aren’t overkill, as the situation remains extraordinarily fluid.
Senior management typically has a role to play on the Crisis team. Nevertheless, it’s important that there’s constant communication between the Crisis team and C-suite. After all, the latter will be making the key all-business decisions.
Don’t neglect safety crisis communications, either. If possible, PCBUs should be developing and disseminating programs and materials that cover coronavirus fundamentals, personal and family and protection measures, including information for the at-home care of ill employees and family members, as well as response strategies.
Here, a platform for communicating pandemic status(es) and actions to employees, vendors, suppliers, and customers in a timely way comes in handy – the Noggin Epidemic Response Module comes to mind – especially after you’ve identified sources of timely and accurate information and resources for obtaining counter measures
What next? Well, a lot of PCBUs have already put in the hard work of crafting and testing an epidemic response plan. Now’s the time to revisit and revise those plans. The specific safety interventions you should be making include:
- Ensure you are compliant with mandated emergency-preparedness measures, which often cover infectious diseases, as well
- Make and socialize return-to-work from affected areas policies
- Design and prepare to implement a daily staff health status reporting procedure for all management teams.
- Review and modify corporate policy and/or contracts related to staff and external workers who might be at higher risk of exposure, e.g. cleaners and security staff.
- Define a corporate-wide management process for ensuring the safe transport home or to health facilities of workers who become sick.
- Define a corporate-wide policy on work from home strategies to support social distancing.
- Define and implement a corporate decision-making authority, infrastructure, health and safety support model for teams who need to work during “silent hours” to keep up with workload and support social distancing during peak hours.
- Define and implement corporate-wide plans to deal with potential shortage of security and cleaning staff due to high absenteeism.
- Determine corporate response to requests from staff for everyone to use masks and gloves even if it is found that these are not effective deterrents to infections.
- Approve resources required to design and exercise corporate-wide pandemic plan including the development of a manager’s guide to pandemic response with samples situations and scripted messaging.
- Check stock of relevant personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety supplies, including hand-hygiene products, tissues, and receptacles for disposal
Finally, your company plays a key role in protecting its worker’s health and safety. So, if you haven’t already, start getting prepared, so you stand a fighting chance of mitigating the impacts of the coronavirus to your business and keeping your workers healthy and safe. And if you need help getting your extra safety planning measures off the ground during this public health crisis, download our pandemic response playbook.
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