States where protocols were most strict are seeing their curve mirror the more successful countries, while total U.S. cases surge overall due to a lack of re-opening protocols. This dichotomy across the country is a result of the federal government deferring most of the responsibility for COVID risk and BCP plans to individual organizations.
While there is too much risk for infection to reopen safely, there is also too much economic damage not to re-open — which has triggered waffling and changes to the prior closure and reopening directives. It is unlikely that the government will have funds for another shelter-in-place phase, and a vaccine is not likely to be widely in use enough to make a difference until the 2nd half of 2021, further complicating an already difficult situation.
Here is a comparison of the curves of the daily new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. vs Europe for the 1st wave on a common timeline:
Covering similar population sizes and a similarly broad geography shows the difference in effectiveness in managing COVID-19 in the 1st wave.
This graph is a warning sign requiring a change in return to work now and better preparation for a second wave in the fall.
With the U.S. federal government largely leaving COVID-19 response to the states, corporations and organizations have a larger role to play in protecting their customers, vendors and employees.
How was Europe able to more successfully bend their curve while reopening their economies?
The governments of Europe require organizations to conduct and publish a risk assessment to their stakeholders along with their associated policies, controls and monitoring activities as the foundation of their return to work programs as can be seen here.
Corporations around the world are under the scrutiny of the See Through Economy. For example, Volkswagen UK published their risk assessments under this mandate with the evidence that they have implemented 250 comprehensive and wide-ranging hygiene and social distancing guidelines –determined from their risk assessment they conducted — to enable a sustainable safe return to work program.
In this corporate example, the consequences for exposing their 1700+ employees to a potentially deadly virus (that in turn might have the consequences of impacting thousands of family members and tens of thousands of people in their community) reminds us all of the importance of our mission that goes beyond the safety and wellness of our customers and employees.
Corporations publishing their risk assessment as mandated at the government level is a large contributor to why their story is playing out very differently than ours in the US – despite starting out on very similar trajectories.
Return To Work Complications:
Roughly 85% of critical infrastructure and key resources in the U.S. are owned by the private sector.
The liability of lawsuits and penalties due to negligence over the next year warrants a sustainable approach to risk management.
It will be more important than ever to collect evidence that the risk mitigation outlined in company policies are being conducted by all employees equally in all facilities.
We have already seen more than 1,300 lawsuits against companies for failing to keep their employees and customers safe. The beginnings of this with the Las Vegas Strip hospitality workers suing the casinos for failing to keep them safe. Any customer can claim negligence of any corporation for failing to provide evidence of adequate enforcement of their return to work policy and local, state, or federal guidelines. Shareholders have been shown to be not far behind in seeking protections from the fallout of this negligence.
Although risk management software cannot guarantee that no one will get infected at their workplace, it does assure companies will avoid lawsuits, reputation damage and regulatory penalties.
There are other complicating factors within the organizations themselves that get in the way of sustaining a successful return to work program and longer term strategy.
Beyond a lack of consistent enforcement, spiking infections and shifting regulatory requirements, nobody has ever done this before. Roles are unclear and undefined. Some organizations have cross-functional task forces consisting of Risk, Facilities, Operations, HR and Audit Executives. Some have tasked their HR department with figuring it out alone.
There is also a great risk in thinking about this as a short term project; “bring people back and project done.”
This just isn’t the way it will play out. Lawsuits have already begun and will continue, driving losses for corporations for negligence holding an employer legally responsible for COVID infections. In addition to the legal liability, the reputational damage as backlash from the See Through Economy will be severe.
Without Risk Management software, many organizations are turning to paper records for sanitation documentation or entry logs for contact tracing. These have no timestamp and will not stand up as evidence that protocols were followed correctly at any given point in time.
Leveraging Risk Management software as part of this program is the only way to both ensure and prove compliance with regulatory requirements. It also substantially removes bottlenecks and optimizes all channels of tracking and communication.
Return to work planning should be thought of in connection with a longer term strategy for operating your business through additional waves — not simply an exercise in capturing employee temperatures and visitor logs. This is also the case when it comes to return to school Covid 19 plans too.
Each company needs to consider its unique circumstances through a risk assessment to determine possible impacts of a 2nd wave of the virus. Identifying and assessing risks to the organization from different root-cause perspectives is the 1st step toward building a risk mitigation plan. Executives should mobilize a cross-functional team of experts, with the mission of identifying all vulnerabilities. Pose these questions (along with many others):
What happens if a large proportion (say, 40%) of the company’s staff are out sick at the same time?
Where are all our suppliers located? Where are their suppliers located? And which ones are critical to our business continuity?
What new distancing strategies does the company need to implement to ensure on-site protection?
What procedures are necessary to minimize litigation risk should an employee or customer fall ill?
The risk assessment should also identify all control measures that the organization has put in place to manage and mitigate the risk of the virus. It must include information about who will monitor these control activities, and how, to ensure that stakeholders are following specified policies at all locations. After developing their COVID-19 risk assessments, you need to publish the details to demonstrate that you take the health of your workers, customers and broader community seriously.
Return To Work Solution #2: Jurisdiction Requirement Tracking
With jurisdiction requirements changing in a fluid manner as states experience set-backs, it is critical to maintain a library of return to work guidelines to help you comply with federal, state, city and agency jurisdictional requirements. These requirements must also be incorporated into your own internal policy and facility considerations. Commercially reasonable mitigation and monitoring and company policy templates are also needed to help you keep your employees, customers and vendors safe while maintaining evidence of your compliance in each of the jurisdictions you operate in.
Return To Work Solution #3: Employee Wellbeing and Incident Management
As customers and employees begin returning to physical office and branch locations, you must implement and sustain your employee screening plans for both physical and mental health. . Consider policies that address child care, underlying conditions, relocation tax reporting or simply fear of return without violating discrimination, privacy, tax or employment laws.
It is also important to automate the process. Leverage an encrypted webform to collect employee COVID positive test information with routing rules and workflows. This will ensure compliance with privacy laws on Personally Identifiable Information (PII), Personal Health Information (PHI) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements.
Return To Work Solution #4: Alternate Workplace and Resource Allocation
If you are not planning to bring everyone back to physical locations immediately and you’re considering shift work, flex work or remaining fully remote, then building the infrastructure for operating in your chosen model is critical. Remember to stay flexible; plan ahead for risks associated with the 2nd wave and the potential need to pivot to another model due to increased infections. Conduct risk assessments to help you identify cross-training needs to sustain your operations through an expected 2nd wave in the fall this year where up to 40% of your workforce may become too sick to work. Develop a process to manage real-time resource reallocation needs due to sickness outages and positive test results. It will be crucial to automate cross-department and cross-facility approvals. Be sure to coordinate shift work, flexible work arrangements, new employee onboarding and training and redeployment of employees.
Return To Work Solution #5: Incident Reporting and Entry Log Requirements
Paper or emailed incident reporting and entry logs will not cover you from being found guilty of negligence should you be accused of not sufficiently protecting employees or customers. Software can be leveraged to schedule reservation times online before on-site visits. This will allow you to limit vendor and customer interaction to maintain social distancing. It will also establish a clear customer agreement with your safety policies. You can also leverage software to collect entry log requirements for when contact tracing needs to be conducted.
Return To Work Solution #6: Physical Workplace Procedures and Incident Reporting
Finally, once workplace safety procedures are developed and rolled out, it’s critical to set up a process to collect evidence that they are being conducted equally and at all locations. This may include taking records of daily workplace sanitation, employee attestations of workplace policies, evidence of social distancing being followed, inventory management and distribution of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
Steven is a recognized thought leader in risk management, CEO and Founder of LogicManager, and author of the RIMS Risk Maturity Model. Minsky’s prescient leadership guided his customers to success through the 2007 recession, the associated TARP bail-outs as well as the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveMinsky
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