Published : 2016-12-09.
Last updated : 2020-04-03.
Epidemics and Business Continuity
Assuming that you are not working in the health care sector with comprehensive roadmaps to handle epidemics and their victims, is still advisable for any business or organization to reflect on practices, behaviours and processes that reduce the business risk during epidemics. In the last years the world is startled by epidemics such as SARS, swine flu, Q fever, Ebola and most recently Corona (COVID-19). Although this never has reached the level of the Spanish flu and the plague, the impact is still quite large. Also do not underestimate the common flu epidemic that kills thousands of people with a weakened health each year.
With the information listed below, I provide you a few points that you can base your Business Continuity Plans on to master the threat of epidemics for your company or organization.
The very first step in the list of points is to assign someone to monitor and follow-up of possible epidemic outbreaks. This person is not required to immediately sound the alarm at every cough or sneeze, however he should be actively following the trends. When the disease reaches one of the branch offices, get the roadmap authorized by management, and check if the procedures still apply. You should also consider the incubation period to monitor the progress and successful containment of an epidemic outbreak.
Make sure you have one point of contact (consisting of multiple persons because they can also get the disease) that answers the collected questions, unambiguously and can curb the media hypes and panic.
The Departmental managers can refer employees to this point, so there are no differences in policy between departments. Correct communication and clear information can reduce possible panic among the staff and their family, thus resulting in a normal working environment.
Provide unambiguous information using posters, bulletin boards and electronic news screens with advice about the point of contact and the hygiene precautions. Hygiene precautions for an epidemic will mostly be based on the procedures to reduce cold and flu infections such as:
Sneezing and blowing of one's nose should happen in disposable paper handkerchiefs or tissues. After using the towels, they should be disposed in closed bins (preferably foot operated) and hands should be washed.
Do not dry cough in the hands but if necessary cough in the elbow, for a wet cough, again use disposable handkerchiefs. Dispose of the handkerchiefs in a closed, foot operated pedal bin.
Wash hands regularly, so more frequently and thoroughly, for more than 20 seconds and thus reduce the infectious risk when touching various objects such as cabinets, furniture, banisters and doors. This also prevents accelerated contamination when people rub their eyes and touch nose and mouth. Keep your fingernails short as they collect dirt and do not bite them.
Since disposable handkerchiefs will be used more, pedal bins etc. should be emptied more often to prevent infection. Because people will wash their hands more often, they will walk more in the office. Often disinfect door handles, the doors themselves, faucets, light switches, other bathroom fixtures and banisters. Decontaminate touched desks, keyboards, tablets, phones and switches (copiers, coffee and candy machines, elevators) more often. Also one can examine to what extent the air conditioning is susceptible to spread germs.
To prevent Cross-contamination one can think of:
Travelling in the affected and surrounding areas should be banned. Special care must be taken to avoid overlapping travel sections of your employees with refugees or aid workers travelling from affected areas.
Limit physical contacts between staff members as well as guests and keep sufficient distance during an epidemic outbreak since many pathogens are easier to spread by shaking hands, embracing and kissing.
Noteworthy is, that we in the West mostly have the Christmas- and New Year's receptions during flu periods. In addition to wishing good health and good luck, we also pass on the germs.
Work at home
Unfortunately for production and logistic employees and similar jobs, it is often required to be together on the workplace. Selectively staffing from a pool of employees can reduce the chances of a total production collapse by infections.
For supporting departments one can, in this modern day and age, often offer work at home using portals accessible via 3 g/4 g networks or via the internet connection offered by the company. The technologies include Citrix XenApp and XenMobile(MDM). You can create a cross-section of departments by, for example, half of the employees to appear in the office and the other employees work at home. During the job rotation of workers, one should take into account the incubation period of the epidemic and any diseased family members at home.
Follow-ups and meetings
Managers can follow up the workers at home through internet-based software such as GoToMeeting and Lync/Skype/Teams. Planning departmental- and strategy-meetings this way, reduces the infection risks and tasks can be completed normally.
Hopefully you have responsible employees, however, when an employee turns up for work having flu symptoms or is feeling sick, the manager must report this sick employee and send him/her home, to prevent further infections.
This should be stated in a corporate policy, so there is no reason for discussion at the supreme moment.
Managers must be aware where their employees are currently stationed and must retrieve or evacuate them from an epidemic region for their safety, way before governments ban traveling.
Important during an epidemic outbreak is, in addition to the quarantine, disease or worse of your employees, that your raw material deliveries and production can be at risk. Your purchasing department needs to know where your suppliers buy their raw materials and even where their suppliers get their raw materials and where they have their transport routes. The recent Ebola outbreak showed that many of the experienced Cocoa-pickers could not travel freely. The Cocoa harvested by inexperienced pickers had a lower quantity, but also a lower quality. The raw materials price by these deficits also rose quickly. Your buyers may be able to switch to another preferred supplier in this kind of situation or (temporarily) stock more raw materials. Please also note that suppliers can get temporary limitations on petrol/electricity etc. because this is reserved for aid workers.
In some of the points, products are named only as an example. Johan is not affiliated with the suppliers of these products and your supplier or your experts may offer similar appropriate solutions.
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