COVID-19: Business Continuity and the Community
By James Decker
Occupational safety and health professionals are always trying to find ways to communicate the importance of planning and preparedness. There has certainly been no greater example of this than the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite previous pandemics including SARS in 2003 and the H1N1 flu in 2009, COVID-19 caught the country and most of the world unprepared. There are no doubt social, economic and political factors at work, but they’re better debated elsewhere and in perfect hindsight. The fact that we were relatively unprepared and ill-equipped to manage a pandemic is already being written into the history books.
There were early warning signs, and some were paying attention to them. In a February 2020 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article titled Lead Your Business Through the Coronavirus Crisis, which was published almost a month before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, authors Martin Reeves, Nikolaus Lang and Phillip Carlsson-Szlezak of Boston Consulting Group summarized twelve lessons they offer their global clients for business continuity during the pandemic. Their article focused on these key elements: information, planning and policies, preparedness and resilience. They cautioned that information should be updated frequently and should come from reliable sources, but that information alone isn’t equivalent to preparedness.
Understanding information on transmissible diseases can be challenging since much of it is provided by scientists, not directed toward the business owner/operator. Businesses that are unclear should consult with experts, such as credible safety and health professionals, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and individual State OSHA plans to help decipher the information and apply it in the workplace. Much of the advice on the importance of preparation provided in the HBR article is echoed in the information being offered to attendees of the OSHA 7210 Pandemic Illness Preparedness course through the OSHA Training Institute Education Center at Chabot-Las Positas Community College District and throughout the OTI Education Center network.
In a nutshell, businesses need to understand the nature of a pandemic: it is a communicable disease that could be easily transferred among employees in their workplaces. While we are not yet immune to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus is entirely immune to our human concerns, and to manage it we need to “think” like a virus. We have learned a lot about how this virus can be transmitted between individuals by direct or indirect mechanical transmission, including respiratory droplets that travel like projectiles for distances up to 6 feet, and by aerosols that can stay suspended in the air for long periods of time. We know more about behaviors that cause it to spread, and that some segments of the population are more vulnerable to infection, serious illness and death. And we know that through effective communication of information, advance and ongoing training, behavior modification and appropriate business practices we can help prevent spreading illness and save lives, during this current pandemic and in the future.
About James Decker
James Decker is a Board-Certified Safety Professional and the principal of JMDecker Group Hawaii and has over 32 years of occupational safety and health experience. His primary focus is on the prevention of accidents, incidents, and events that harm people, property, or the environment, and is a safety consultant to a wide range of managers, designers, employers, government agencies, and others. Mr. Decker served as Hawaii OSHA Chief Staff Officer (Deputy Administrator) and was responsible for managing the “State Plan” grant.