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What is the role of risk managers during COVID-19?


July 10, 2020
Categories: Safety, Health

Risk managers have always been hard at work at companies large and small across the globe. The impact of COVID-19 gives the role a newfound respect and urgency.

Coronavirus introduced an example of a risk management decision: remote work.

The danger of coronavirus lies in how easily it spreads — by droplets in the air and on surfaces that can remain between eight and 14 minutes, depending on the environment. According to the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, one infected person passes the coronavirus to 2.6 other people. In an office environment, with cubicles, conference rooms and shared bathrooms, it would be hard to keep the virus from rapidly spreading between employees.

“Desks may be too close together for social distancing and it’s difficult to have a meeting in a conference room where people are unable to sit six feet apart,” said Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue. “Companies want to keep employees safe and uninfected, but they must also factor in how this would affect productivity, efficiency and overall risk management.”

“Being prepared for a work-from-home setting was huge: transitioning 70 people to go from two floors of a high-rise building with physical files, printers, copiers to their home offices or kitchen tables could have been a nightmare,” said Louis Cairo, a Global Rescue member and managing partner of GWC Injury Lawyers, the largest personal injury law firm in Chicago, Illinois. “But we responded rather well. Weekly conferences with staff and lawyers keep us all in the loop on who is doing what and engaged with our people.”

Social distancing protocols and travel bans also halted international business travel, disrupted supply chains and temporarily closed the doors of many non-essential businesses.

Risk Managers and the C-Suite

A risk manager determines the financial, safety and security risks for a company or organization and finds ways to reduce those risks through planning and problem solving.

Not every company has a risk manager, although there might be many individuals with risk management responsibilities.

“Risk management in a typical business is usually handled by the C-suite, insurers, legal and finance,” said Scott Hume, vice president of operations at Global Rescue.

“We have a task force in place which is made up of upper management,” says a manager in the insurance and risk management department of a global nonprofit organization. “They are working on the ‘back to the office’ initiative and all that goes along with it.”

Every risk management role is different. Risk managers may be key to running a large facility at a U.S.-based company, while others may be responsible for duty of care programs for traveling employees at a global organization. Risk management, as a department, may fall under the domain of human resources, or be comprised of several different departments.

No matter the location on the organizational chart, a risk manager has a seat at the corporate table.

According to Airmic, a London-based association for everyone who has a responsibility for risk management and insurance for their organization, 79% of risk managers said “they are increasingly being seen as a business partner across the company, working collaboratively with corporate business functions such as digital, HR, R&D and supply chain, helping assess strategic and functional business partners.”

Why will the role of risk managers increase post-COVID-19?

“Risk management is an ongoing process. It doesn’t happen just once,” Bush said. “The risks and your company’s responses will keep changing and you’ll need structure and processes for the long-term management of the crisis.”

Many risk managers have had to adjust to new business continuity plans, as the pandemic continues to present challenges for organizations and companies of all sizes.

“Risk managers quantify risk levels and see if that level is acceptable or unacceptable,” Bush said. “If it is unacceptable, the risk manager will need to come up with methods to mitigate the risk, then re-quantify levels.”

Bush provides an example where this process plays out in decision-making.

“Risk managers look at threats and vulnerabilities and how the two together will affect the business or the business assets, the employees. A corporate building located in a high crime area is a threat. Having no lighting or security cameras in the parking lot is a vulnerability. The risk manager won’t have any control over the threat — the crime rate — but they can control vulnerability by adding lighting, cameras and connecting the cameras to the police department.”

This wide-lens approach is why risk managers were prepared for the next coronavirus business threat: cyber security.

According to Forbes, the COVID-19 crisis turned the U.S. workforce into a work-from-home army, giving cyber criminals new access points for cyber viruses and phishing attacks. Firms are typically able to sustain around 10% of staff working from home, pushing network security to its limit. Risk management teams had to think outside the box and anticipate risks — like digital security for remote workers — that others might not notice.

How Global Rescue Can Help

Is your company prepared for the next coronavirus crisis? No one is sure what a next wave of cases could bring this fall — standardized testing for all employees or a vaccine to boost immunity or stricter stay-at-home policies.

If your company doesn’t have a risk manager, it is time to invest in these critical services. Global Rescue provides travel risk, crisis management, duty of care support, consulting and staffing solutions to businesses, NGOs, academic institutions and governments worldwide.

“Global Rescue ensures employers have proactive plans in place to protect the safety and security of employees,” Bush said. “From creating an emergency action plan (EAP) or blueprint for best practices to protecting your employees while conducting business abroad to reducing the risk of liability or exposure during the coronavirus pandemic, Global Rescue provides intelligence capabilities customizable to your business needs.”

Click here to learn more about Global Rescue’s travel risk and crisis management services.


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