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Managing the risks to workers and the public during a pandemic

As the world adjusts to the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is certain – no company has been spared from the impact of a national shutdown and global business disruption. Equally, very few companies had included pandemic response of the type required in their business interruption plans. Spread of infection aided by our globally connected economy along with swift government actions allowed no time for companies to prepare or implement -- as a result, the collective business world could only react.

Those reactions – our responses to the pandemic – not only have businesses shifting operations in ways that had not been imagined previously but has had a profound effect on how organizations will operate going forward. Many companies have deviated from their normal operations, deviations both large and small.
Any deviation from the norm can mean new hazards that are not considered in an organization’s existing risk assessments and subsequent management. That matters, whether you are among the estimated 75 million Americans working from home or an essential worker who must remain on the job. And as businesses move to reopen, resuming direct contact with customers and between employees, risks are exacerbated for both employees and customers.

Risks to employees
Keeping employees safe during a pandemic is of paramount concern. With COVID-19, it is tempting to focus on the virus itself as the sole source of risk. However, the indirect risks associated with the pandemic are of equal concern, depending on your business.

Staffing levels are just one example of how a simple change can greatly impact an organization’s risk exposure. Operational risk assessments pre-pandemic were designed with optimal staffing levels in mind – the right number of people with the right skills.

When staffing levels are altered those changes often can lead to increased injuries when there aren’t enough resources to perform a task safely or when asked to take on new responsibilities. For example, a restaurant moving from dine-in service to delivery may require some employees to now drive – a job task requiring specific skills.

The best approach is to evaluate daily your operational risks based on actual staffing levels. Pay special attention to the following:

  • Tasks that involve significant manual handling: if this task was typically spread across two or three employees, it is unrealistic to expect one employee to manage it alone, and it could be causing significant harm to the body.
  • Lone worker scenarios: with potentially reduced staffing levels this may be a new risk not present previously.
  • Activities to be completed within a limited time frame: time-sensitive tasks that were set up for a certain number of workers may need adjusting to fit the lower staff levels. Otherwise, employees could experience fatigue quickly, resulting in decreased productivity and higher risk of injury. For example, production lines working at half the staffing should be altered to accommodate the number of people working.

No matter what changes you make to your operations, examine the skills required and new hazards stemming from the change. Review carefully tasks for any new operations and perform a skills-based risk assessment to identify new hazards, including increased control measures. What new skills are required? Do your employees need additional training for those tasks? Have new control measures, such as personal protective equipment, been added?

Also, take care not to force fit employees to new tasks. For instance, being able to drive does not make someone a suitable driver. Screen employees to ensure they have the right qualities and skills to match the job.

No matter what changes you make to your operations, examine the skills required and new hazards stemming from the change.

Hiring and training
Depending on the business, some companies may need to hire additional staff to meet increased demand. Rapid hiring puts a strain on onboarding and training processes, which can hinder a new employee’s understanding of the tasks to be performed. That can impact competency, which poses significant risks for new and existing employees.

For companies needing to increase staffing levels, spend extra time upfront streamlining your onboarding process. Focus on what’s necessary for the specific job tasks of the newly hired employees. Consider the use of virtual training and resources for employees to refer to post-training as well as on-demand.

Remote workers 
For employees working from home, while federal and state regulations vary duty of care applies as long as the employee engages in work-related activity regardless of the location. For specific questions on jurisdictions or coverage, consult human resources specialists or an employment attorney with the particulars of your operation.

Remote employees still need support, particularly from a risk management perspective. Remote risk support can include:

  • Identifying at-risk employees, such as those who have pre-existing, ergonomic related issues or used modified workstations in the office
  • Educating employees on the hazards they may encounter in their remote workday, and letting them know what resources they have available to them such as security hotlines and travel assistance programs
  • Communicating clearly on expectations, such as acceptable places to conduct work and typical hours
    Communicating clearly and often is the best risk management practice for remote workers. Check-ins at regular intervals can provide an opportunity to address any new situations, as well as a chance to remind employees of acceptable practices.

Keeping your customer safe
Whether your business continued to serve customers, or you are re-opening, the safety of your workers and your customers is paramount. What changes you implement to keep your customers safe depends on your business and the local regulations and health department guidance.

First, review how much direct contact you have with customers. Next, look at the changes to your business operations in relation to your customers. For instance, having reduced staffing means your company may not be able to serve the same number of customers that were possible pre-pandemic.

In fact, many of the changes to business operations that affected employees will also impact your guests. Likewise, measures that improve employee safety will also improve public safety. Some of those changes include:

  • Staffing levels: pay attention to security and housekeeping, as the latter is likely to need more staffing.
  • Different operating hours, with reduced operating hours potentially resulting in the same level of guest traffic in less time.
  • The number of services or products available; for example, many restaurants have chosen to operate with limited menu options.
  • Adherence to social distancing guidelines: limiting the number of guests, accessible areas, and interaction with employees.
  • Adherence to preventive measures like face masks and hand sanitizer; detailing what’s required of customers and the enforcement expectations to employees.

Above all, communicate all changes to your business clearly and often with your customers. As you update your visitor policies and procedures, keep in mind the balance needed between the safety of your customers and the safety of your staff.

When trying to shift your business operations to respond to a pandemic, know that there are no simple answers. Start by adhering to federal, state, and local guidelines, and consulting health authorities regularly. As the pandemic continues and we learn more about the disease and its impact, setting up your operations with flexibility in risk identification and mitigation adoption will enable you to adapt quickly and can help you reduce the risks to your employees and your customers.

For more information or assistance in understanding your risks, please contact the AXA XL Risk Consulting team of experts.

 

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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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. 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 publication, 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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