Information abounds on how to prepare and protect your business workplace from COVID-19: masks, social distancing, disinfectants and hand washing. The Small Business Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) all have guidelines available.
But this is only one part of how to prepare your business for COVID-19. In fact, it’s only one part of a company’s security plan — the overarching rules and regulations keep
ing your company, your assets and your employees safe.
Coronavirus is affecting your organization on many levels: standard operating procedures (where masks, hand washing and building sanitization come into play), emergency action plans, or EAPs, (what to do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19), business continuity plans (new work-from-home protocols and risk management for business travel) and disaster recovery plans (restarting workforce travel domestically and internationally).
None of these plans are stand-alone documents and each one can protect the company from a level of harm to business assets or personnel.
“All of these plans are inter-related. Standard procedures assure basic, everyday safety. Emergency action plans are for situations beyond the normal procedures and business continuity plans and disaster recovery plans help business capabilities after an emergency or disaster,” said Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue.
“The more comprehensive these policies are, the easier it will be to deal with future or potential emergencies. In fact, standard safety procedures or protocols make an escalating situation, an emergency or disaster, more recognizable and completely avoidable.”
Standard Operating Procedures
What is a business SOP? Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are a step-by-step set of instructions guiding employees to perform tasks in a consistent manner. Documented SOPs for a corporate office could be as simple as sending an email to welcome visitors to the office or a spreadsheet of acceptable lodging costs for business travel. A manufacturing facility might have instructions for safety gear before operating machinery.
The idea is that if these everyday practices are performed consistently, services and products will also be delivered consistently — and everyone will be safe.
“The better your initial standardized everyday policies and procedures are, the safer and more effective your organization will be,” Bush said. “It’s about creating a culture that effectively balances productivity with safety.”
Original SOPs may not include coronavirus protocols. An example is a building entry procedure: using the main door or side door and swiping your key card to gain access.
Updated and enhanced SOPs, however, include employee COVID-19 screening measures. That same building entry procedure SOP, updated for coronavirus, would mandate building access using the main door only, swiping a key card and taking and documenting your temperature.
“Standard operating procedures will require more attention and modification than EAPs,” Bush said. “The consequences of violating a standard procedure are much more severe due to COVID-19. Good standard operating procedures allow for effective and ‘smooth’ EAPs.”
Emergency Action Plans
With everyday practices in place in the SOP, next step is establishing procedures around safety. This is the emergency action plan.
“Emergency action plans are in place for when the standard procedures fail and ‘bad’ things are in progress,” Bush said. “Some emergencies, like a coronavirus pandemic, cannot be avoided, but a good EAP will lessen the impact and consequences of the emergency.”
The EAP is reactive, only dealing with the emergency at hand. For example, when an employee enters the main door using a key card and has a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
“EAPs mandate the necessary actions taken by organization staff to mitigate the negative consequences of an emergency,” Bush said. “These policies may not be practiced every day, but are critical to safety and security.”
The EAP would require the employee with the temperature to report to their manager and to human resources. The key card login information would determine who worked on the same days as the employee and management would alert them to the situation and require testing.
Business Continuity Plan
After the emergency has happened, how do you keep your business on track? This is where a business continuity plan can help.
Business continuity planning is the process of creating systems of prevention and recovery to maintain operations during or just after an emergency, like a coronavirus pandemic.
“The business continuity plan should be carefully reviewed and validated” Bush said. “An example is a company rehearsing work-from-home protocols department by department in February, then rolling it out companywide in March.”
According to CIO magazine, a business continuity plan identifies key business areas, critical functions and dependencies between various business areas and functions. Acceptable downtime is determined for each critical function and a plan is created to maintain operations.
Disaster Recovery Plan
A disaster recovery plan can help companies get back to work after any major disruption, an evacuation, a fire or extreme storm, an active shooter situation or even a pandemic. It provides guidance for making decisions and setting rules, such as, reopening a facility, travel restrictions, event cancellations, work from home protocols, supply chain disruptions and sick leave policies.
Let’s look at one area: corporate travel.
Now that domestic travel restrictions have eased and some international countries are welcoming visitors, it may be necessary for employees to meet in person with clients, vendors, suppliers or partners. What is the procedure if a traveler visits a city with a coronavirus outbreak? What is the policy for an employee who wants to work in the office after a trip?
An updated disaster recovery plan could mandate a travel protection services membership for each company employee. This would protect the business on three levels: pre-trip with destination reports with COVID-19 specific information, on-trip real-time intelligence alerts and assistance and post-trip screening, testing and triage for all travelers as needed.
Another example is a back-to-the-office initiative. Employers have a legal obligation, called duty of care, to provide a workplace free of known health and safety hazards. A disaster recovery plan might have employees return to the workplace in phases or alternating shifts to ensure social distancing practices are possible.
“Companies and organizations cannot function without procedures and policies. Procedures provide guidance or instruction and when that procedure becomes an organization policy, it is official: the organization is required to enforce the policy and members of an organization are bound to comply,” Bush said.
“But the plan and its procedures must be current. Its effectiveness must be validated and it needs to be understood and acknowledged throughout the organization, especially those with key roles and responsibilities during an emergency.”
How Global Rescue Can Help
Many organizations, large and small, were not prepared for something like a business coronavirus disruption. According to a May study by researchers at the University of Illinois, Harvard Business School, Harvard University and the University of Chicago, more than 100,000 small businesses have closed permanently since March. An estimated 25% of businesses never reopen their doors following a major disaster, according to the Institute for Business & Home Safety.
If your company needs to conduct a risk assessment, develop an emergency action plan or update a disaster recovery plan, Global Rescue offers customizable travel risk and crisis management services to organizations of all sizes. Click here to learn more.
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