Organisations will feel the ripples from the COVID-19 pandemic for the next year or more as they redefine “normal” business operations. Constraint will be the order of the day as the country moves into the “suppression” phase of the fight against the virus, while staying alert to the possibility of a second wave of infection.
As you navigate the path to normality, crisis-management models will need to evolve to reflect the new business as usual. In many instances, there will be no return to former practices. Inevitably, some changes will be permanent, and will affect the way you do business moving forward.
Most companies are strengthening health and safety practices in light of COVID-19, and many are completely changing their operating models. A key question at this stage: What will returning to work look like?
For many, there will be an increase in work-from-home arrangements — temporarily in some cases and permanently in others. Either way, there is a duty of care that needs to be afforded to home workers.
For those returning to workplaces, new rules, protocols, and policies will be needed to ensure the safety of staff and customers.
At the same time, there will likely be lasting changes in consumer behaviour. For example, the uptake in online shopping could become permanent, travel volumes are likely to remain low for some time, and the use of telemedicine is likely to stay at its new, high level.
All of these changes and more could alter risk profiles, risk tolerances, and insurance arrangements.
Things to consider
The following insurance areas are among those where you are likely to see impacts from COVID-19.
While some companies strive for business as usual, others are pivoting, either to meet changes in their customers’ needs or to take advantage of new opportunities. For example, during the height of the crisis many manufacturers began producing personal protective equipment (PPE), while many more cafes and restaurants offered delivery services backed by online ordering systems. These kinds of changes often bring a change in risk profile and liability, meaning you should:
- Verify and stay informed about additional regulations that apply to your new business operations.
- Ensure you fully understand these additional regulations, how to comply with them, and that you are aware of any updates to these regulations.
- Assess the impact of a changing work environment to your risk profile, especially your people risk.
- Review your existing employers’ liability policy with your advisors to see if it is sufficient or if the changes you’ve made require coverage adjustments.
As the country reopens, some organisations will find that their properties remain unoccupied for an extended period as they seek to comply with government safety guidelines. In such situations:
- Understand the potential impacts of extended un-occupancy.
- Review your property coverage for un-occupancy clauses.
- Physical and security protections are in place to minimize potential damage and claims.
Increases in remote working and digital contact with customers and clients are increasing cyber risks, meaning you should:
- Assess how an increased use of digital technology will affect your cyber risk exposure.
- Review your current coverage for cyber exposures.
- Implement additional cybersecurity measures and staff training as needed.
For many companies, vehicles may have been stored, unused for many weeks since the start of the pandemic. Before resuming activities like deliveries and transportation services:
- Ensure your vehicles are roadworthy.
- Check that vehicles that have been laid up or SORN are taxed and have completed MOTs.
Key activities before reopening during COVID-19
Preparation is essential on your road to normality, and should include:
Carry out a risk assessment
All businesses should conduct a risk assessment before reopening their premises. Each location may need bespoke changes to ensure staff safety. Key considerations include:
- Areas of ingress and egress. Could a one-way system be implemented?
- Lifts. How will you ensure hygiene and avoid overcrowding, in the lift and in waiting areas?
- Common areas. How will you ensure hygiene and maintain social distancing in kitchens, toilets, landings, and corridors? How will you reduce time spent in these areas?
- Spaces shared with other organisations in buildings. Who will be responsible for maintaining hygiene and social distancing in shared receptions, car parks, and other common areas? How will you monitor this?
- Office layouts. Will you need to move desks and fixtures to maintain social distancing? What barriers might need to be inserted between desks? Which office equipment, such as printers and phones, can be for communal use and what hygiene instructions must be in place?
- Remote working and video conferencing. How are you supporting staff working remotely? Is your equipment and software up to spec for remote working and video conferencing? Do all employees have access?
- Hot-desking. To what level can this be maintained? For example, what cleaning processes will be needed? What office equipment and supplies will employees need to bring with them each day?
- Staggered shifts. Could this help employees maintain social distancing? How many shifts a day are feasible?
- Employee Consultation. Have you consulted with staff and considered their views on how a return to work can be managed safely?
Also consider if you need to create a new induction to re-iterate previous emergency procedures (Fire, first-aid etc.) and if any new policies and procedures need to be introduced.
Prepare your places of work
For many businesses that remained open during the lockdown, social distancing precautions have become commonplace. It is now routine (or normal) to encounter floor markings for customers and staff, plastic screen dividers, and contactless payment requirements. Establish whether such measures will be mandatory for your business. If not, will they be beneficial?
There are many recommendations to help employees avoid contact with colleagues and clients in order to maintain the advised 2-metre social distancing space. Consult with your broker or usual Marsh Commercial contact as to whether insurers are making these measures compulsory, or whether there is some benefit to your insurance in having them.
Prepare your vehicles and fleets
Precautions will need to be taken with vehicles that have multiple drivers. The number of drivers associated with vehicles and driven machinery should be reduced to safe levels.
Regulations for fleet drivers will remain in place. Provision and processes that adhere to both existing regulations and COVID-19 related safety guidelines will need to be established. If you manage your fleet, make sure that you regularly check the Government website for the latest guidance.
Put new cleaning and sickness protocols in place
Regular deep cleaning of workspaces and common areas will be essential, and protocols must be in place before a building can be reopened. Signage should be set out as reminders to staff to maintain good hygiene practices and the recommended 2-metre distancing. Clients and customers also will appreciate seeing these reminders and knowing that you care about their health and well-being.
You may need to introduce new processes that regularly check for COVID-19 symptoms, such as employee temperature checks before shifts by managers or health professionals on staff. You may also consider having employees use check-and-trace apps to log results from their own temperature and symptom checks, as well as recent contacts in the event of another outbreak.
Processes and protocols also will need to be in place for employees who are sick at work and those who have returned to work after being sick.
Protocols for employees sick at work
Consider developing “sick at work” policies and procedures to deal with employees who develop COVID-19 symptoms. If an employee complains of signs and/or symptoms of COVID-19, it is best to err on the side of caution. You should treat the employee who may be ill in a humane and caring manner, while safeguarding the health and wellbeing of others. Remember to consider your employee’s privacy rights at all times.
- Put in place policies and procedures that facilitate employees reporting when they are sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (or witnessing a colleague exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19).
- Promptly identify and isolate an ill employee to reduce the further spread of COVID-19 at work.
- Ensure that the employee understands how a potential or actual COVID-19 infection should be managed, that he/she gets home safely, and the medical and company resources available to him/her.
- Encourage employees to self-monitor for signs and symptoms, especially if they suspect possible exposure to the ill employee.
Policies for employees returning to work post-infection
Companies should develop a process for employees returning to work after recovering from a COVID-19 infection. This is essential for reducing concerns among staff about his/her return and the potential for exposure to the virus if not fully recovered.
- Regularly monitor and follow the advice of the UK Government and other health authorities in determining whether and when a colleague experienced a COVID-19 infection may return to work: www.gov.uk/coronavirus.
- Consider consulting with medical professionals before implementing a post-infection return to work policy.
- Be aware of and adhere to privacy laws and data protection regulations where protected employee medical information is concerned and national and local directives and guidance regarding return to work.
You may choose to adopt the UK Government advice as policy, or treat it as a minimum standard when determining what action to take.
To support businesses we have collaborated with leading risk management specialists to provide an expanded range of services to help mitigate risks. These tools which you can download from our Health and Safety Hub will help you support both you and your employees in returning to work safely and in the resilience and recovery from COVID-19.
Educate and communicate with your staff and customers
It is important that your employees understand that work may never return to how it was before the pandemic. The more they understand about COVID-19 and about the measures you are taking to protect them and those they interact with at work, the more likely you will be able to minimise significant incidents.
Transparency is key; details are important. For instance, if you are changing your operating hours, occupancy limits (i.e., five customers at any moment), and in-person availability (i.e., 30 minutes only), either to comply with government guidelines or to manage a reduction in resources, ensure that you communicate these changes to your staff and customers.
You also may need to provide specialised training depending on an employee’s role if new technologies have been introduced or they will continue to engage in site visits or work-related travel. This enhanced training would be in addition to a general introduction to your organisation’s response to COVID-19.
Returning to the workplace safely guide
If you’d like to take a more in-depth look at the issues relating to returning to the workplace safety, Marsh has put together a practical guide for managing COVID-19 that you can download here. This guide will help you identify your readiness to return to the workplace, develop a plan and to implement the changes.