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Grocery clerks. Restaurant staff. Public transit workers. Gas station attendants. Mail carriers. Truck drivers. Warehouse and food processing workers. Public safety officers. And, of course, healthcare professionals. They are essential workers.

While across the world, non-essential businesses are closing or significantly reducing activities to keep more people at home, essential businesses look for ways to keep their workers safe and healthy. To help, AXA XL Risk Consulting is sharing its pandemic concerns and general best practice guidance (download it here). AXA XL’s Global Casualty Risk Consulting Manager Sheri Wilbanks highlights the challenges of the current operating environment for essential businesses. Sound risk management principles remain the foundation – assessing new perils given current circumstances and operating adjustments – to minimize the threats to employees and customers and better protect their business.

What protocols or steps are essential businesses taking to protect employees?
The protocols required depend on the nature of the business operations and the hazards present. This requires most to perform a risk assessment first. What’s the risk? Who’s at risk? What actions will minimize that risk?

For instance, businesses adhering to health professional guidance are doing their best to keep a recommended distance between or minimal contact among their employees and the customers they serve. The resulting practice may be to limit the number of staff in the workplace at once. Many businesses implemented A teams and B teams to work alternative schedules to lessen the exposure for their workforces.

Those serving the general public may place a limit on the number of customers permitted in their store or facility. Others offer special shopping hours for their more vulnerable customers. Restaurants introduced to-your-car delivery.

Generally, many will make changes to how they transact business to reduce hazards presented to their employees and customers. Documenting is an important action along with the risk assessment and mitigation process. Documentation forms part of the evidence to minimize the liability that may arise during this time.

Are there businesses conducting business as usual?
Few operations will continue with business-as-usual. Employers are looking at what are essential activities and what are non-essential activities. They may need to do more with less staff. Or they may need to increase or add an activity to their business that wasn’t previously present, such as many supermarkets offering curbside pickup and delivery.

Modified tasks, additional or new tasks, and operating with less staff all require an assessment of the worker risks, and appropriate risk mitigation measures. Tasks that may require two or more employees may need to wait or get done in a different manner. Say a store needs to get stock on the shelf which would be done with a team of ten, and staff availability is only five, the method and expectations for shelf stocking must be adjusted. Heavy boxes, typically moved using tandem lifts with two people, now may need to be partially emptied as part of a modification to the standard protocol.

Employers still need their employees to follow protocols to work safely, especially when using alternative methods.

Employers still need their employees to follow protocols to work safely, especially when using alternative methods.

With personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks and gloves in short supply, many businesses are directing those supplies to first responders and healthcare workers who need them most. What other safety equipment or protocols should businesses use?
Yes, it’s important that professionals have the right PPE. One new item added to the hygiene routine at many businesses is the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. To be the most effective the hand sanitizer should have an alcohol content between 60% and 95% and used on visibly clean hands. It’s important to note that if hands are visibly dirty, the effectiveness of the hand sanitizer is significantly reduced.

The hand sanitizer must dry on the hands. A user should not wipe the “excess” off their hands. It is not excess and must evaporate (dry) on the hands. 

Hand sanitizers must be handled carefully, especially in some work environments. For instance, users should take added precaution when working around open flames. The hand sanitizer’s alcohol content makes it highly flammable and is still present if the hands appear wet after use. Severe burns can occur.

All hand sanitizer and similar high alcohol content disinfecting products should be stored carefully, not near heat sources. During this time, businesses may have a much larger supply of these types of products then they normally would, so storage practices should be looked at carefully.

How important is communication in keeping essential workers safe?
It’s so important. Businesses need to establish open channels of communication. And communication has to go both ways, from managers and health & safety officers to employees, and back. Employees need to understand the severity of the risk, the importance of the actions that are being taken and their role. Managers and health & safety teams need to understand employees’ concerns so they can adequately address them and make needed adjustments.

What lessons can be learned?
There will be plenty of lessons learned, and post-crisis I would expect every company to do a review of their BCP measures and discuss what went well and what could be improved. One of the biggest business continuity planning lessons learned will be about PPE. The recent shortages of PPE supplies should spark important discussion and potential changes to manage this supply. Of course, a global pandemic presents a unique situation where as we face shortages of supply on a global scale. Most crisis situations are regional in scope. When one region is affected there are others to reach out to for supplies. What do we do in a global crisis scenario? We’re all learning those lessons now.

What do customers need to be aware of? How can they help?
Know the rules of the business you are visiting and follow them, things like business hours, available business services, limits to the number of customers inside, and similar. Businesses want to keep you and their employees safe. And do your part to follow the health professional guidance, including minimizing outings to essential activities only, do not go out if you do not feel well, follow hygiene recommendations on hand washing and not touching your face, and so very important right now -BE PATIENT. We can all do this, and it is just as much about protecting someone else as it is protecting yourself. Do it for these essential workers as well as you and your family!

Global Asset Protection Services, LLC and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provide loss prevention and risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. Documents created by AXA XL Risk Consulting including reports, letters e-mails, publications, etc. are based upon conditions and practices observed and the data made available at the time of its collection. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular property or type of loss or damage. The provision of any service does not imply that every possible hazard has been identified at a facility or that no other hazards exist. AXA XL Risk Consulting do not assume, and shall have no liability for the control, correction, continuation or modification of any existing conditions or operations. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any document or other communication will make a facility, operation, and/or product safe or without hazards, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. If there are any questions concerning any recommendations, or if you have alternative solutions, please contact us. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this document, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

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  • Global Casualty Risk Consulting Manager, AXA XL Risk Consulting
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