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Is your business continuity policy ready for coronavirus?

Be alert, not alarmed, and respond in a measured way. That’s the advice from the experts as coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continue to rise in Australia.

Presenter of our upcoming Coronavirus webinar, Robbie Sinclair says, ‘We don’t have mass casualties in Australia, but we do need to practise common sense prevention activity’. ‘The time to prepare is now.’

Similarly, Catherine Dunlop, partner, employment, safety and people at law firm Maddocks, notes that the situation is fluid and there are lots of unknowns.

As a first step, she advises organisations to review their pandemic and business continuity policies to ensure these are fit for purpose.

‘They must give you sufficient flexibility to allow for a complete shutdown of the workplace as well as the possibility that large parts or some parts of some teams may be absent at short notice,’ she says.

‘Also consider what else you might need and whether there is sufficient guidance for your business on these issues.’

Dunlop says the key business continuity risks organisations might face include:

  • some employees being off work quite suddenly because they are in quarantine after travelling or are caring for others, including children if schools shut down.
  • unwell employees needing to be sent home, possibly with other colleagues.
  • supply chain issues disrupting business operations.
  • some or all operations needing to be shut down for a period so they aren’t burning cash.

Dunlop uses the acronym ABCH to simplify important areas to focus on:

A = absences:

Understand what you will need to do in terms of absences and leave. If someone has just returned from a country that is infected, you will have to consider whether you want them in the workplace. What are your arrangements for asking them to take personal leave?

‘Be very clear on these sorts of things before they become a problem. Understand your legal obligations and your employment frameworks and policies,’ says Dunlop. ‘People are going to start asking questions so you should have that understanding now.’

B = business continuity:

Have you planned for not having certain groups at work? Do you know what events are coming up? Do your managers know enough to fill the gaps and keep up with operations if employees are absent?

C = communication:

What are you telling your team and your employees? Discourage fear. Also, think about the culture of your organisation.

‘Check out the World Health Organization, Commonwealth Department of Health and Smartraveller websites so that you get good information from the prime sources,’ says Dunlop.

H = hygiene:

The two biggest things we can do to counter coronavirus are not coming to work when we are sick and washing our hands thoroughly. It’s vital to send this message to employees and to have good hygiene at work.

‘Many modern workplaces have open bins, so if people are disposing of tissues and towels, you could consider if you have the systems to do that hygienically,’ says Dunlop.

To this, Sinclair adds: ‘Provide plenty of hand sanitiser at the workplace. Invest in plenty of surface wipes and encourage staff to use these regularly. And invest in plenty of office cleaning with a focus on contact surfaces like handrails, mouse, keyboards and door handles.’

Sinclair also advises running a practise test of business continuity plans to ensure staff understand their roles and responsibilities. ‘It’s likely been a while since these plans have been practised,’ he says,

‘Also ensure your computer security continues — patching, antivirus and malware protection is important. Letting your guard down or being distracted due to other events like pandemic preparation could be disastrous.’

Dr Rebecca Hoile, senior manager, resilience services at RiskLogic, focused on critical incident management and business continuity, says organisations should also take the following steps:

  • Review your workplace contacts, including key stakeholders and update staff contact details.
  • Review your supply chain and identify alternative suppliers or products.
  • Review your options for alternate working arrangements such as, work from home and video conferencing, and ensure that staff have access to the supporting systems and equipment.
  • Identify what roles within the business are essential and cross train now.
  • Create a list of support staff, contractors and casuals where necessary.

Dunlop says several her clients are either banning international travel or telling staff that if they plan to travel, including during school holidays, it might mean they can’t come back to work for a period.

‘This is a time to review, prepare and be measured. Hopefully, we won’t need to put more in place, but if we need to, if you thought about it before and have a plan, you will be in a much better position than if you are making it up as you go,’ she says.

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