As the coronavirus continues to spread globally, Peterlee and Seaham HR expert Alison Schreiber provides some essential advice to avoid the risk of contamination.
Novel coronavirus, or Covid-19 to give it its official name, has been dominating news headlines since it was first identified in Wuhan City, China back in December last year.
Since then (and at the time of publication), cases have been diagnosed in 31 more countries across the globe including the UK. And last month, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a public health emergency. Typical symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath which may progress to more severe symptoms. And, as with most viruses, those with weakened immune systems are more at risk.
Despite all best efforts at containment, this virus has spread. And so it falls to UK businesses and public sector organisations to make a plan for the worst-case scenario. This may seem like a daunting prospect, but don’t be overwhelmed. You’ll undoubtedly know more than you think and we can help you with the rest.
Upcycle your existing policies
The duties you have towards your employees are laid out in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The law requires you to do what good management and common sense would lead you to do anyway: take appropriate measures to reduce the risk of harm “so far as is reasonably practicable”. So far, so sensible.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (the Management Regulations) detail these requirements more specifically and, like the Act, they apply to every work activity. The first requirement on employers is to carry out a risk assessment.
How vulnerable you are to the risk of coronavirus will obviously depend enormously on what type of operation you are running. A small, remote office will have different requirements to a care home or a cruise liner, for example. Industry bodies relevant to you may provide specific advice, like the Quality Care Commission (CQC) for example.
So, start by looking at your existing H&S policies. Have you got procedures in place for infection control? Are your HR policies on sickness absences appropriate?
Once you are familiar with your current documentation, assess the risk of coronavirus in your organisation. Identify any pressure points and which members of staff are most vulnerable to the virus.
Though it may seem obvious, being explicit about good hygiene practices and following the guidance of the World Health Organisation on suspected infection and travel, will stand you in good stead. Once you have identified the risks and established measures to minimise them, enhance your policies as necessary.
Monitor official advice
We’d also recommend keeping up to date with, and following, advice given by the UK government, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for travel advice, and Public Health England (PHE), Public Health Wales, Health Protection Scotland (HPS) as appropriate, as this is very much a fluid situation.
Business continuity planning
With your risk assessment done, you can begin to develop a business continuity plan, a plan that will be specific to your organisation. You may need to adopt some measures immediately.
If your business involves international travel you should strongly consider avoiding places where there have been outbreaks of the virus, following official advice. Explore the possibilities of working from home and consider whether your staff need extra protective equipment to do their jobs. There are no curfew/wider quarantine situations in place in the UK at the time of writing. But this could change. So be ready for your business to comply with them.
If you are providing essential services, your business plan should consider staffing resources should the situation worsen.
Communication is the key
Preparing for the potential risks of coronavirus cannot just be a theoretical exercise. It’s vitally important once your plans are in place to communicate clearly to staff. Promote infection control and hygiene advice widely around your organisation. Designate a staff member or members to monitor any spread of the virus and implement your plan should that be necessary.
Want bespoke advice?
If you’re still unsure how to proceed, don’t worry. We can support you with any aspect of the above from helping you with your risk assessment to amending your H&S policies.