Coronavirus and the impact on risk management personnel


In light of the decision taken by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic, acting on reliable information in a time sensitive manner will be critical.

Outbreaks of novel diseases are inevitable and are emerging at an increasing frequency around the world, not least because of the close relationship between humans and animals as has been the case in recent epidemics of SARS, MERS and swine flu. The current ‘COVID-19’ pandemic is thought to have been transmitted from bats to an, as yet unknown, intermediate reservoir, and on to humans. This coronavirus is particularly contagious and also has a mortality rate that is much higher than seasonal influenza.

What does the coronavirus outbreak mean for Risk Management personnel and business continuity?

The rapidly developing nature of the outbreak has impacted operations globally. For risk management professionals, who are often tasked with managing requests for assistance and advice in crises, the coronavirus will likely mean an uptick in demand for intelligence by various stakeholders. The proactive dissemination of information, continuous monitoring of COVID-19 and effective management of support requests will be essential in mitigating increased staff exposure and operational disruption. Execution of these items in a timely manner is vital to the fulfilment of duty of care obligations.

The make-up of a business continuity plan (BCP) will very much depend on the size and nature of an organisation’s core business. It should provide actionable processes and practices to safeguard employees and minimise the impact of business interruptions, both of which certainly fall under the remit of security and risk management professionals. While many businesses have robust crisis management and business continuity programmes which encompass human resource management, business continuity functions, logistics and supply management as well as crisis communication planning, many of these fail to include practices surrounding pandemic preparedness. Implementing the appropriate business continuity measures will enable businesses and risk managers to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

What precautions can organisations take to mitigate risk to employees?

Organisations should provide clear, consistent and regularly updated advice and information to all personnel. Staff should be advised on how to recognise symptoms in themselves and others, the basic precautions to take to prevent exposure, as well as what steps to take if they become symptomatic. All travel plans should be assessed in line with the organisation’s internal risk tolerance and risk managers should consider cancelling outbound travel to areas of high risk of transmission. Travel to countries/territories with sustained community transmission should additionally be reviewed, particularly for ‘high risk’ travellers who remain more susceptible to the virus. To track the coronavirus outbreak, Johns Hopkins University have developed an online dashboard, bringing together data from several official bodies including the WHO and the Centres for Disease Control. The dashboard maps locations and reports on figures of confirmed and suspected cases, fatalities, and recoveries linked to COVID-19 in real-time.

For organisations that have large employee populations in China, Italy, South Korea’s special care zone and Iran or have travellers (including expats) in these regions, safety will be a high priority in addition to general health and well-being. Those that have already identified some risk exposure in the aforementioned locations will likely need to assess whether assets can or should be moved given the current restrictions on travel. If travel is not possible, the emphasis shifts to ‘shelter in place’ practices and how to support the employee(s) during the outbreak. If the security team is able to coordinate onward travel, elective or imposed quarantine considerations should be planned. Organisations should consider implementing travel restrictions on all inbound travel to these locations.

Furthermore, there needs to be a plan in place to manage interactions with potentially exposed employees; close consultation with legal and human resources departments will be required in this instance. If an individual is ill, begins to exhibit symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or if there is a chance they may have been exposed to the virus, management of their treatment will need to be coordinated. Employers can additionally fortify their operational resilience by making provisions for remote working, which will serve as an invaluable contingency should the transmission of the virus affect an organisation’s work premises.

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