More than making profits, the goal of every business owner is to create a business environment that is safe for both their customers and employees. A virus outbreak affects the business as much as it affects the people that conduct business. Unlike natural disasters, it spreads so fast that it covers and affects multiple areas of work in a short time.
Waves of virus outbreak may happen in a few weeks. When this occurs, it will affect the overall performance of any company. Your business, for example, will be plagued by absenteeism, and your chain of supply and demand will be interrupted. Needless, to say, an outbreak will cripple your operations.
The occupational safety and health act which was enacted in 1970 stresses how employers and business owners in the US are to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for men and women. If the outbreak of coronavirus has revealed anything, it is that no business is immune to a virus outbreak. What you can do as a business owner is it to put plans in place to mitigate the effect of the virus and protect your employees and customers.
The business world has not lived in so much panic due to a virus outbreak in a long time. That was until coronavirus showed up. Since it spreads so fast, there has been a decline in profit, increased in isolation – all of which are bad for business. To protect your stakeholders during an outbreak like this one, let us examine so of the measures that you can put in place.
Come Up with A Plan Before the Outbreak
True, no one wishes for a virus; however, it won’t be entirely wrong if you prepared for it in advance. A disaster plan is the first thing to adopt if you want any chance of protecting your employees and customers during an outbreak.
First of all, you need to stay informed to have a sufficient grasp over the situation around you. Where you can, you should review the federal and local health plan for workplace health to avoid disaster due to inappropriate actions.
Work with the authorities
You see, creating a plan sometimes means seeking out local resources within the community to help you with an outbreak. Look at it more like opening a line of communication with the stakeholders so that you can stay informed as the virus evolves. You also need to mind government announcements, recommendations, and relay such information to your employees on time. If it is possible, create a central team or a focal point that will serve as a communication source to provide employees with accurate information during the outbreak.
Leverage information to build a community
It also won’t hurt if you research a little about other businesses that are currently dealing with an outbreak that you are not. A support network lets business owners work together to distribute resources and provide aids planned on keeping employees and customers safe. Hence, whatever plan you wish to come up with, it should be predicated on what you’ve observed as the best practices in your business networks.
Create a policy
A sick leave policy, for example, is an excellent example of a plan that is designed for managing a virus outbreak. Such plans won’t penalize sick employees but will encourage them to stay at home to prevent infecting other healthy employees and customers. By implication, you will be prompted to plan to continue operations with a reduced workforce without cutting down on your productivity. Not just this, you need to work with your suppliers, if you have one, to provide services and continue operations.
Train replacements for critical positions
Another planning process is to identify positions that are essential to the business and develop or cross-train ways to operate without them. One common and ugly sight with an outbreak is downsizing. It is never wished on any employee; however, it does happen. Hence, you, as the business owner, must plan to downsize your service if you ever need to. On the other hand, you must also plan for any scenario that may cause a surge in demand for your services.
Plan for personal employee health and hazard
More than trying to curb the infection, it will go a long way to put ideas in place to help employees manage stress. During trying times of a virus outbreak, most employees crumble under the weight of life disruption, grief from the loss of co-workers, family or friends. As a result, there should be a support system that reduces fear throughout the outbreak. Where you can, the business should provide counselling and support service, mental health assessment, and insurance services to boost employee morale.
Determine Your Level of Risk
A clear understanding of the hierarchy of occupation risk, especially during a virus outbreak is essential to curbing and dealing with the virus. If we are to look at it in stages, then the hierarchy would range from maximum, medium, and low-risk depending on what type of services your business offers.
You must adjust your plans and business practices to match your business’ exposure risk. The likelihood of spreading the virus in a business that has little person-to-person contact is reduced compared to a business that thrives on contacts with people. Hence, it is safe to say that exposure risk depends on how frequent employees come in contact with carriers of the virus in the form of customers and fellow employees.
Maximum exposure risk
Health employees like doctors, nurses, and healthcare personnel that handle suspected patients of an outbreak have the highest exposure risk. Where your business puts employees in frequent contact with clients and customers infected with the virus, you should make workplace safety your priority. Some of the measures that you can put in place include:
- Proper ventilation of the office space and isolation rooms
- Provision of safety gears like masks, hand sanitizers, tissues, and soap
- Encourage social distancing even if it seems a little hard to do given the environment
Medium exposure risk
Populated work environments, high volume retail, and schools with a high frequency of contact with other people. Since it is hard to avoid contacts in this type of business environment, employers need to adopt some safety plans for the workplace. They include:
Control work practice
- Instruct employees to avoid contacts; say within 6 feet of customers or other employees. Consider restricting workplace access to customers to a designated area of your business environment.
- You can also create a drive-through window, expand your phone-based operations, or implement home-delivery strategies to reduce contact.
- Another way to control work practice is to make safety equipment available and communicate it to their employees.
- Physical barriers like plastic sneeze glass that can protect employees from sneeze and cough should be readily available.
Control administration and communicate policies to your employees
For example, you can create a bulletin board for circulating information or come up with signs to inform customers about the signs and symptoms of the virus. You employees must also understand policies around the workplace that borders their leave, payment, and transportation.
Low exposure risk
These are employees that have minimal contact with co-workers and customers. Social distancing and personal hygiene is the best line of actions for businesses whose employees rarely come in contact with customers and other employees. For this type of business, you could decide to:
- Create a means of communication either via a designated person, bulletin board, or website to effectively communicate information to your employees.
- Stock supplies for hand hygiene and let your employees know where they are located
- Consider the options of making your employees work from home since they rarely come in contact with people anyways.
- Adjust your leave policies and transport policy to reduce contact with people after working hours
Hygiene and Etiquettes
Hand washing, especially during a virus outbreak, shouldn’t be left at the discretion of employees and customers. The business has to mandate cleanliness to avoid spreading germs all over the workplace. The commonest and the easiest to do is to wash the hands frequently with soap and water for about 20 seconds. This includes during food preparation and before eating. However, you should also wash your hands after:
- Contact with someone who is sick
- Using the restroom
- Handling garbage
- Handling animal, foods, or pets
- Coughing, sneezing, and blowing of the nose
- Food preparation, etc.
To be honest, the list of activities that require washing the hands after contact is endless. The deal is to make it into a habit, especially after coming in contact with someone of something. A better way to do this is for the business to provide an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Since soaps are not always readily available and your employees can’t always rush to the bathroom, you should provide handy sanitizers. Not just any type. According to the CDC, it should contain 95% alcohol content as it kills more germs. However, this should not be a replacement for washing hands. Place these sanitizers in multiple locations where employees and customers can easily access them. You can also adopt a touch-free bin for disposing of tissues.
It is also essential to train employees on coughing and sneezing etiquettes. Since a virus spreads mainly through secretions employees could pass on the virus even without coming close to others. Not just this, the habit of sneezing or coughing into the hands is another practice that can increase the spread of the virus. Since we do so much with our hands, we don’t want to leave germs behind us on everything we touch.
Instead, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze. Such tissue must be disposed of immediately in a bin and should be followed by hand washing. Alternatively, you can bend your arm inwardly and sneeze into the cup of the shoulder.
Businesses should also encourage employees to clean out their workstations regularly, especially the parts that are frequently touched. For example, gadgets like doorknobs, countertops, remote controls, and keyboards should be cleaned periodically. For the desired result, it is best to clean with a disinfectant product. Be sure that the cleaning agents can kill germs and pathogens before using them to make the best out of them. Remember to use disposable tissues or wipes and adequately disposed of after use.
Ultimately, the best practice is to avoid contact with people. When your employees complain of feeling sick, instead of encouraging distancing, it is best to let them go on a sick leave. Where there is an appropriate policy regarding sick leave, you won’t have a problem granting an employee leave.
Create A Flexible Work Policy and Schedule
The ultimate and most effective way to curb the spread of the virus and protect your business is to create a flexible work policy. Although this might not be too feasible for businesses that thrive on contact with people, it is best if you have it in place if your business doesn’t. Let us look at how businesses in this category can thrive.
A flexible policy could be either let employees work from home or reduce the number of employees present at a time by scheduling shifts. Working from home or remote work is one of the best, if not the best way to protect employees of a business that don’t require frequent contact with customers. By implication, your employees won’t need to bother about safety in transit, and around other employees. Since they are in their house, it remains their utmost responsibility to protect themselves and their families.
You can also adopt phone calls, online communications, and video conferencing instead of physical workplace operation. Thanks to technology, employees can do so much from their home. However, for employees who need to clock in for work, you can rearrange the workspace to give enough distance between them and others. Where it is impossible for employees to work from homes, you can introduce stagger shifts to reduce the number of people coming in at a time.
Shifts and rotational works let different employees come into work at different times. By implication, it reduces contact and cross-contamination. You can also limit the hours of operation as a way to discourage customers from crowing the business.
Where it is possible, designate working hours for the elderlies and other immunocompromised customers to come in for business interaction without contact with the broader population. Be sure to post information on your decision in a way that is clear to understand for customers to avoid peak traffic hours and call in at a scheduled time.
Be sure to keep an open line of communication with the public so that customers can take measures for their protection. Social media handles or websites, for example, are an excellent way to communicate information to clients about what you are doing and how they can stay safe. If you need to cancel events, do so to avoid large gatherings.
The bottom line of this practice is to adjust your social rituals to create a flexible work schedule for your employees and the customers.
Sign Up for Federal Relief
Virus outbreaks have so many impacts on businesses. More than protecting employees and customers, you should also strive to protect your business. Since your employees will have nothing to come back to after the virus outbreak if your business is ruined, it is best to take measures to stay in business.
Bailouts and small incentives are ways through which governments help distressing business from falling impact, especially during the trying times of an outbreak. Legislations that target employer tax credit, tax deferment, and low-interest for loans are ways governments attempt to help struggling businesses.
The European Union, for example, approved 750 billion euros and reached a deal of almost 2 trillion euros as part of its recovery plan for businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Likewise, the United States released 50 billion dollars for territories affected by the virus and passed a 2 trillion dollars’ stimulus bill for aid relief. So also governments around the world. Businesses can also apply for disaster loans or low-interest loans to help them cover for expenses.
You are not alone in the fight against a virus outbreak if it does happen. Since there are reliefs, plans, and aids by the government, you can apply for help and save your business.
Viruses spread rapidly, and as such, cripple businesses and daily living. However, since you can’t afford to stay out of business for too long, it is essential to take the initiative to keep your employees and customers safe from viruses. Places of business, above all, are most vulnerable since it is hard to control so many people from different aspects of life. The case is worse when carriers do not realize that they are potential spreaders. Therefore, there is a need for businesses to take precautions to avoid being a party to an outbreak.
Sanitary and hygienic work practices are essential to prevent the spread of the virus. Each business and the individuals that make up the business have a responsibility to stay safe and provide oversight for implementing sanitary routines. With a carefully drawn up plan and strict implementation, you have a higher chance of staying safe from the virus.