In a matter of moments, our world changed. We all had plans to operate our businesses normally but with extra safety precautions to protect us against an emerging virus spreading across the globe. And then, everything stopped with some of the first community-spread cases in the United States. Almost every state has enacted a stay-at-home order. Many businesses are temporarily closed. It’s an unprecedented time. Now, we are trying to determine the signals needed to begin resuming life normally, if, in fact, it ever will be.
We’ve seen a coming together of families, communities, and states and even as a nation, mentally and emotionally, to protect our workers, our communities, and our families. With that gathering, we need resources to help us navigate the next few weeks and emerge better and stronger—and wiser—than we once were.
At Avetta, our focus is on worker safety and helping them come home every night. Now, we’re working with our customers, partners, and contractors to get us back to work safely. We’ve collected many of the key resources available to help you with work processes, safety, mental health, finances, etc., at our resource center. Here is a summary:
Mental Health—Staying Connected While Being Distant
While we are isolated, either alone or with our families at home, or even socially distanced at a warehouse or jobsite, we may have a sense of feeling alone. Realize that feeling lonely is a normal human emotion, but if you feel that emotion for an extended period of time, it can be bad for your health, leading to bad sleep patterns, poor decision-making, and a weakened immune system, further impacting your health. Because of social isolation, we need to be more aware of each other and more supportive. Here are some ways to connect when you are disconnected.
- Clearly communicate company information, including policies, expectations, and how you (and the company) will support each other.
- Utilize instant messaging and videoconferencing. Chat software such as Microsoft Teams, Whiteboard, and WhatsApp, among others, helps employees message each other and stay connected throughout the workday. Videoconferencing systems can replicate the benefits of face-to-face interaction while we are social distancing.
- Communicate frequently with messages of support. Be positive. Negative comments might be taken much worse during this period of high stress. Host virtual coffee breaks, or create time to socialize with each other during this time.
- Speak up. If you are struggling, have a frank conversation with your supervisor or HR representative so he or she knows how you are doing from a professional and personal perspective. This person can get you the help you need—the earlier, the better.
Small Business Assistance and the CARES Act
The biggest impact of the stay-at-home orders has been felt by small businesses. A Goldman Sachs survey reveals that half of small business owners cannot operate beyond 3 months of stay-at-home conditions. To help these businesses, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide multiple options for small businesses to survive. Here are the programs:
- Paycheck Protection Program—Forgivable loans of up to $10 million as long as the company uses the funds to maintain the average full-time workforce. Only interest on the loan is to be paid.
- SBA Disaster Loan Program—Provides up to $2 million to cover financial obligations that cannot be met because of COVID-19.
- Emergency Economic Injury Grants—Small businesses can receive an advance of $10,000. The grant may not need to be repaid if accepted.
- SBA Express Bridge Loan—These loans can provide up to $25,000 in immediate capital with less paperwork.
- Debt Relief for Existing and New SBA Borrowers—The Small Business Administration (SBA) can cover existing loan payments for 6 months.
- State and Local Small Business Assistance—Several states, counties, and cities are providing assistance to small businesses, as well.
Avetta hosted a webinar about small business assistance programs with representatives of law firm Fisher Phillips. Resources are also available in many countries to help with the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Work Life Has Changed—Possibly for the Long Term
Until we know more about the virus—whether it hibernates in warm months, how many people were infected but didn’t know it, etc.—our work lives at the factory, in the office, or on the jobsite might be forever changed. We may have to maintain social distancing and health protocols. If you haven’t instituted these measures, you should create long-term procedures in your facilities:
- Measure employee temperatures daily or more often, especially when physical distancing is not possible.
- Rearrange break rooms and meeting areas to allow for 6 feet of separation between workers.
- Stagger work shifts to reduce employees on-site or moving through closed-in areas such as hallways, elevators, time clocks, etc., at the same time.
- Develop cleaning procedures to disinfect surfaces daily, especially in high-traffic areas.
- Create safety moments specifically related to COVID-19 procedures and policies.
- Evaluate safe work environments for those who have to work at home.
Business Continuity Plans
Many small companies, contractors, and suppliers probably haven’t updated—or even created—business continuity plans. To get you started, samples of these plans are available for download.
Additional resources are available for your business. Most of your key vendors, suppliers, customers, and partners have created COVID-19 policies and resource documents. Some are even offering free resources while we are under restrictions. Learn from them so your company can get back to work safely and emerge from this pandemic stronger and healthier going forward—because we will get through this.
|Danny Shields, CSP, is vice president of industry relations at Avetta and a quality, health, safety, sustainability, and environmental (QHSSE) professional who partners with executives to limit their organization’s enterprise risk. He has led teams to achieve year-over-year QHSSE performance records in high-risk environments, saving companies in direct and indirect costs. His industry experience includes oil and gas, mining, manufacturing, and construction.|