We're currently in the midst of a major push to restart businesses and bring people back to work. Economies around the world have taken major hits from COVID-19 and the threat of a recession looms large. Oil recently tanked into negative pricing territory. Governments are borrowing billions in attempt to maintain social balance.
The Coronavirus is still very much with us. This means a complicated and difficult choice between allowing greater rates of death and restoring economic stability.
Pushing the restart button on business will have significant and serious complications. While some countries are reducing restrictions, we have yet to see reliable data on the outcomes of these decisions.
Additionally, the World Health Organization keeps repeating, as emphatically as they can, that the worst may still be coming. With numbers of infection climbing daily in the United States, it isn't difficult to take their pronouncements seriously.
We may be flattening the curve and ensuring that our healthcare systems are not overwhelmed, it is important to understand that the curve can - and will - spike again. The risk of overburdening the medical system remains if we remove lockdown and shelter in place orders.
Why am I writing about this here? Because starting everything up again puts us safety professionals smack where the rubber meets the road. At this point in time, our role in business continuity and business restart is deadly serious. Literally.
Safety's phased plan for a restart is pretty basic, really. We know the hazard. We know the risks. We know it will be fatal to some. We also know what protections we have and what we can do to prevent the spread of infection.
And we know that people are willing to throw caution to the wind and expose themselves to the risk. We've seen it happening on beaches as the weather warms up and many people choose to ignore social distancing recommendations. And reports of COVID-19 parties, where people gather despite warnings, show that our control measures need to account for the fact that not everyone will take proper precautions.
Restarting Business During COVID-19
Businesses have the absolute responsibility, under the law, to protect their workers - whether they're deemed essential or not.
Basic safety measures start with a business continuity or restart plan that has a section dedicated to COVID-19. Getting a firm understanding of the hazards, risks, and controls is essential before anything else happens. Even if your company has no immediate plans to restart, get this done now.
Once you've established these basics, you can move on to the next steps. The order in which you do this will be governed by the type of work being started up again. Some of these steps must also be done in concert with each other.
And remember that these are general guidelines only. This is not a minimum - it is intended for discussion and planning purposes only.
Do the Prep Work
Do your research and get information from government and health authorities first.
Plan for the worst, including having to shut down and go on lockdown once again. If there are spikes in infections or your business finds itself in an infection hotspot, this is exactly what you will have to do.
Ensure That Your Workforce Is Not Infected
Screen daily. Test as required. Contact trace with the assistance of local health authorities.
Keep records of all these.
Remember that workers can spread infection on the way to and from work as well. Car pooling, for instance, has been identified as one of the ways the virus spread through a slaughter plant with over 500 positive cases of infection.
Send Sick Workers Home
Don't let sick workers come to work, and send those who are showing symptoms of infection home. You might also consider not having those who are at risk come in at all, or at least limiting their contact while at work.
Make Sure Employees Are Only Working for You
Many people work multiple jobs these days, and contractors often move from job site to job site. In normal conditions, that might lead to fatigue or overexertion. Now, it can have terrible consequences for your staff or customers.
Make sure your workplace is the only one workers are coming to. If not, have a plan in place for how to handle employees who are working at other locations.
Identify Potential Contact Points
You need to be aware of all the ways your staff and customers interact, whether directly or indirectly. Identify all disease transmission vectors and implement procedures to safely manage them.
Stock Up on PPE
Order all the PPE you will need to get going and maintain your restart. Follow all the usual procedures for introducing and using PPE.
Mask Everyone Up
This is essential and there are no exceptions. Even the boss will need to wear a mask. Until the health authorities say otherwise, keep up this practice.
Put Security at the Front Door
Control who enters and leaves your business and how they do it.
Map Your Floor
Do this to minimize traffic jams and unnecessary contact. Arrows and dots showing workers or customers where to go and where to stand are standard in grocery stores and it has proven to be a simple, affordable, and highly effective measure.
Clean, Disinfect, and Sterilize
Keep your premises and work stations as clean as you possibly can, especially any point of interface or contact with the public.
Provide hand sanitizer for customers and staff. Supply staff with lots of disinfecting wipes and any other cleaning materials they might need.
Document, Document, Document
Document everything and then share the data.
Pay Attention to Communications from Local Health Authorities
We're still at war with the Coronavirus and the front lines are shifting constantly. Make sure you stay updated and arm yourself with the latest information and recommendations.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
When your business gets going again, remember these key points:
- COVID-19 infections are still happening.
- We have no cure. One may be coming, but so is Christmas. It might be a while before we see any serious progress on that front.
- 9 billion doses of a vaccine will not be produced or distributed by next Tuesday.
- Social distancing is the best tool we currently have to prevent the spread of the virus.
- PPE and cleaning procedures are our second-best tool. Washing hands and wearing masks are effective measures.
- COVID-19 spreads easily. Now, there are concerns that the virus maybe airborne. You can never play it too safe.
Lead From the Front
As a safety professional, you are the at the front line when it comes to protecting workers. Take the time you need to study the plans that countries and states are using with success.
Governments are pushing the restart button. That makes your due diligence even more important. Make sure you have your post-restart processes all lined up before your company reopens.
Now is time to lead from the front. The Coronavirus is a serious hazard and the situation it has caused is complex. You might face unexpected complications as things get going again. But with your help, your company will be able to manage the risks to the best of its ability