As Governors around the country work on varying phases of re-opening businesses that have been closed for weeks to months due to COVID-19, one thing is clear – it’s going to look different.

In Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee outlined a four-phased plan with metrics and timelines. Regardless of one’s point of view on it, there is clarity about expectations and a timeframe to predict. If you own, operate, or work for a business that will re-open offices, facilities, or job sites, you can expect that you won’t be left to your own organizational devices. Just like everything changed in airport security after 9/11, your security of people and processes are likely to be scrutinized and required to comply with state and federal regulations.

As construction phased back in, there was a requirement that all job sites had a written COVID-19 safety plan. My colleagues in HR are hearing rumblings that OSHA may in fact be requiring the same for all employers. While there is still uncertainty on size and scope of restrictions, you should begin planning now for your COVID-19 safety plan. Here is a 7-step approach to get you started:

STEP 1: Don’t simply download a free version of a safety plan and think you’re set to go. Just like a suit “off the rack” will never fit well, you need a tailored plan that takes into account your industry, locations, employees, and processes in order to be “styled” correctly. Safety should never be merely a strike on the checklist. If you’re going to invest the time, make sure your company policy meets the requirements of keeping your employees and visitors safe.

STEP 2: Identify your cleaning and disinfection needs. What products will you use? How often will sanitizing be required? Who will be held accountable for cleaning? What are the consequences of not staying current on schedules? Do different areas require different schedules and measures (e.g. office space versus manufacturing area)?

STEP 3: Will you test employees prior to letting them return? This is a hard one to do. Testing specifically for COVID-19 isn’t an option. Will you have each employee take their temperature before returning? How will you monitor other symptoms of illnesses? Will managers and supervisors have authority to send apparently ill employees home? If so, how do you handle their pay for the day and when can they return? While you may have some verbiage in your employee manual, this is a new reality to sickness and contagious spread of disease. You need to have a written and communicated plan for your employees before they return so they know the rules of engagement.

STEP 4: How will you handle visitors to your office, store, or location? This not only includes customers and clients, but also vendors, salespeople, delivery services, and other supply chain partners. What will you require of them? Let’s add one other consideration to the mix. You should be asking anyone entering your building to sign in with name, date and time of visit, and contact information. This used to be more for security purposes for those inside the building. Now, it’s also for the safety of your visitors. What happens if one of your employees contracts (or is even being tested for) COVID-19? You must alert all visitors during a certain timeframe so that they can be aware and take their own medical precautions.

STEP 5: What will you do if you have an employee that tests positive? How will you communicate to your employees? Will you need to go back to virtual working?

STEP 6: Will you require supply chain and strategic partners to have their own COVID-19 safety plans? I’m beginning to see an increase in this external pressure.

STEP 7: How will you assure your employees (and anyone else that wants to know) that you’re keeping this plan a “working policy?” As we’ve just seen, this crisis or any future pandemic gives the term “in flux” a while new meaning! Ultimately, where does the buck stop in accountability and responsibility in your business?

This is the time to create a plan – before you must provide it. Here in Washington State, we may still be two months away, so getting your plan in place is imperative. I’m able to help you do this quickly, as I’ve done for several clients during the past six weeks. Before you simply pull a plan off the Internet, keep in mind that those have been created for generic situations. I encourage you – whether it’s me or someone else – to get professional help for a project that requires expertise in risk and crisis management.

Final thought: This has been a highly disruptive – and in some cases – destructive time for business. Even after a vaccine arrives, the future peril of pandemics hasn’t disappeared. Protecting your employees and all those you come in contact with, including the families and loved ones for all involved, should be paramount for every business. Creating, communicating, and practicing a COVID-19 safety plan is the the first step in that process.

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