Making difficult decisions about safety during COVID-19
By Brie DeLisi
Many companies are finding themselves making unexpected difficult decisions around their state of business and employee safety. Do I continue operations and potentially expose my employees to COVID-19? Do I shut down operations and risk going out of business? What other options do I have?
Some of these decisions feel like a Catch 22 and no situation has an ideal result. Writing a list of pros vs cons may be helpful, but the main focus should be on long term consequences. Many of us are concerned about short term impacts, however reframing to long term may make it more straight-forward.
I have a manufacturing facility with employees working in close quarters (within 6 ft), population is majority 55+… do I have them continue to work in close quarters?
Options and consequences example:
• Continue operations as is: My employees are majority 55+ and there are a number of high-risk employees. If they contract COVID-19 while at work – it will impact potentially all of my employees. For each employee, there is potential that they may be hospitalized, or it could be fatal – I may be responsible under OSHA regulations. Implications: personal values, company reputation, and associated costs ($1-3 million per fatality).
• Shut down temporarily: I can’t pay my employees; we won’t have income – I can survive like this for 4 months, but I’ll go under after that. I can’t guarantee I’ll still have customers or employees. I still have bills I need to pay.
• Sometimes there are in-between options to consider:
o Reduced staffing - investigate rotating shifts based on location within the operations (as example, ensure there is coverage for key workstations)
o Change shift structures and size - 4 hour shifts instead of 8 hours, and pay part time so employees are at least getting some income
o Implement distancing requirements - ensure you understand pathways for employee movement during work
o Temporarily remove high-risk employees
o Consider if there is there any work that can be done elsewhere
To be clear: none of these decisions are simple, but it is important that as a company leader, you are prepared to accept the potential consequences.