As businesses begin to reopen and employees return to work, insurance agents need to keep one thing in mind—managing risk in the workplace. As an agent you may be asked to provide your clients with a roadmap for reopening.
If you’re comfortable doing so, here are three areas that agents can advise their clients on:
1) Adhere to health authorities’ guidelines. The first thing clients need to acknowledge is that the workplace we left three months ago is forever changed. The pandemic created health and safety risks that didn’t exist a short time ago and it’s the responsibility of business owners to ensure their workplace is safe.
The problem is most employers have no experience managing a global pandemic or reopening a business that was shut down so abruptly. To assist with this, agents should refer to the health authorities, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The first piece of advice they offer is to frequently disinfect commonly used surfaces with disinfectants approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Hot spots include light switches and doorknobs, as well as anything else the workforce commonly touches. These areas should be cleaned multiple times a week with products the EPA has deemed effective against COVID-19. If the client is doing the cleaning themselves, they should be outfitted in the proper protective clothing, including gloves and safety goggles. If a cleaning crew is responsible, it should be provided with these materials.
If possible, clients should also install more hygiene stations offering hand washing soap, hand sanitizers and paper towels—particularly in locations of high footfall and common use. Aside from the regular garbage can, no-touch biohazard waste receptacles are a safer option for discarded gloves and masks.
Physical distancing of at least six feet between individuals is essential. To accomplish this, clients should consider adding plexiglass extensions to cubicles, putting doors on offices, restricting access to common areas, posting signs, putting marks, such as decals or colored tape on the floor, and implementing other visual cues to remind employees to maintain a social distance.
Finally, there’s the hot-button issue of testing, which is often not a viable in-business option due to local capacity and availability issues, a lack of immediacy or the fact that testing cannot be administered by on-site clinical staff or contracted nurses. Currently, the most viable testing path is temperature checks, which should be administered daily.
2) Prepare the workforce. Once your workplace protocols are set, you’re ready to welcome back your employees. It’s important to understand who will be returning and when they’ll be in the workplace.
Divide your workforce into groups, ranging from least likely to return to most likely to return. On one end of the spectrum are those in a risk group, such as older folks and those with a pre-existing condition. They should continue to work from home if possible or at the very least, have a flexible schedule. Clients must also consider those with childcare or family care issues. Access to childcare may be limited due to the closure of schools, daycare and remote learning initiatives—leaving parents with no choice but to stay home. The same can be said for those who live with an elderly relative. If household members are going out to work every day, there’s a chance they could bring back the disease with them.
Beyond those in high-risk categories, given how rapidly COVID-19 can spread, clients need to be prepared for employees who are not at major risk but nonetheless express concern regarding returning.
The answer here is communication, including the establishment of a “return-to-work contact person” who will serve as the employee’s go-to resource for health and safety information. This contact person must be clear on what specific precautions and protocols are being taken and communicate them every step of the way.
3) Manage behavior. The same contact person could also serve as the “environment monitor.” This employee would be responsible for ensuring that all safety precautions, notably social distancing and frequent disinfection, are being followed while also being a resource for employees to confidentially communicate any questions, ideas and concerns.
Essentially, the role of the environment monitor boils down to a behavioral manager who ensures all the recommended protocols are followed.
One major behavioral change involves staggering employee and customer traffic to reduce physical interaction and increase distancing. That includes staggering times and days for employees to arrive and leave, staggering opening times for customers and clients or even implementing specific hours for high-risk customers and employees.
Non-essential visitors and travel may also be a thing of the past. Clients need to define who they believe to be an essential visitor and have them participate in all of the same health protocols as an employee. With regards to travel, simply try to limit it as much as possible and push for teleconferencing where feasible.
Even with all the protocols in place, however, the risk of an employee contracting the virus is still great. Yet, instead of living in fear, we should encourage our clients to be prepared for the worst. They should immediately send home those who are symptomatic and have them quarantine for 14 days. Those who come in close contact with a sick person should also be afforded a multi-day at-home work period. Finally, when all else fails, clients must have a contingency plan in a place for a temporary workplace closure.
These are complicated times for business owners across the country. Insurance agents hold an obligation to be a trusted resource for clients. We know that one day options will progress. Advancements like widely available antibody tests and, eventually, a vaccine will be a reality. When those days come, clients will look for advice again, and agents should be right there to provide it.
Scott Carroll is executive vice president and program director of Take1 Insurance.
As agencies and businesses begin to reopen their doors, the Big “I" has curated resources to help you communicate with clients, lead staff and continue to serve your community. Visit the Roadmap to Recovery and Opening page for videos on current HR issues, best practices tips, strategies, work from home resources, employee safety signs and much more.
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