Be prepared for the unexpected. It can affect your business.
It’s hard to imagine that a virus that’s believed to have developed in a market in China’s sprawling Hubei province, could impact your construction or outdoor business here in the US. But in today’s globally-connected world, it is highly likely to have at least a slight impact.
It’s important for any business, especially one with employees who are invited into homes and businesses to complete physical work, to put safeguards into action when an unpredictable pandemic like Coronavirus suddenly pops up.
To fully understand how this virus can and may affect your business, it’s first a good idea to understand exactly what a coronavirus is. Later in this article, we’ll share some ideas on how to manage and protect your employees and business during this time.
What is coronavirus?
There are several types of coronaviruses – and they have been present throughout the world for centuries. Typically, they are a common cause of mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness in humans. They are associated with respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver and neurologic diseases in animals. The current coronavirus that has been in the news lately is a strand called “COVID-19.” It first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.
What are the symptoms?
Patients who are confirmed by a physician to be infected with COVID-19 have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days – or as late as to 14 days – after a person has been exposed to the virus. This is what doctors believe, based on the current understanding of COVID-19 and the incubation periods of other studied coronaviruses.
How is COVID-19 Transmitted?
COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person through direct contact, as well as by being in close contact with respiratory droplets. Many details about COVID-19 are unknown, including how easily it is transmitted from human to human, and its overall severity. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in Atlanta, current research suggests the following as probable ways the virus is transmitted:
- Inhaling the virus through the respiratory system when an infected person coughs or sneezes
- Exposure to objects or surfaces that are contaminated from an infected cough or sneeze
To learn more about ways to prevent this coronavirus from spreading, the CDC has regularly updated and helpful information at their website:
Will wearing a surgical mask help me?
Fear of the coronavirus has inspired people across the globe to go out and buy boxes of surgical face masks. Everyone seems to believe that they will reduce the chances of inhaling airborne viruses from someone else’s coughs or sneezes. Both digital and real life store shelves are empty of face masks, everywhere from Amazon to the local pharmacy.
For the record, the CDC doesn’t recommend face masks for people who aren’t sick. Instead, more frequent hand washing and keeping your distance from people who are sick and coughing is suggested.
Surgical masks are designed to prevent a person from spreading a respiratory illness to others rather than to prevent the person wearing the mask from coming into contact with new bacteria or viruses in the air.
In addition to that — they fit loosely around the nose and mouth. Viruses are small, airborne particles that can be inhaled with unfiltered air around their edges. Given this information — when you’re on a worksite, a makeshift substitute like a bandanna or handkerchief that’s even looser than a surgical mask will filter out even fewer particles.
Here’s more information from the CDC that you may find helpful:
If coronaviruses are usually mild to humans, how and why is this new one potentially life-threatening?
Right now, healthcare professionals are still learning about COVID-19 and the full range of illnesses that it might cause. One thing they can confirm is that people with weakened immune systems, and those who are already suffering from illnesses like pneumonia, are at the highest risk.
Steps you can take to help protect your construction and outdoor employees
There’s a lot of information out there about COVID-19. Some of it is helpful, while others are stories simply written to generate headlines. In some cases, being misinformed and making rash decisions can be as potentially harmful as the virus itself.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions from the CDC that will help protect you and your construction or outdoor services employees throughout your workday.
If someone shows up sick to the jobsite, send them home to rest, ASAP.
Some employees like to “power through” the workday, even if they aren’t feeling any better once the day begins.
If someone shows up on your jobsite with acute respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing, sneezing or shortness of breath), they unfortunately pose a potential virus transmission risk to your other employees and your clients. Make sure all of your employees know that during times like this of global pandemic, no potential signs of the virus can be allowed on the jobsite.
Before work begins, send your sick employee home immediately, preventing contact with your other employees. If you’re visiting the site and notice that someone has become visibly sick mid-day, ask them to go rest at home.
Remember, no one intentionally gets this virus. Make sure you ask your employee to take a sick day in a private setting if at all possible, and do not make them feel even worse for being sent home.
Encourage sick employees to stay at home in the first place.
If you’ve sent an employee home or they called in sick in the morning, tell them to stay at home and not return to work until they are free of fever and feel that their health is restored enough to do physical work. That means a temperature lower than 100.4° F/37.8° C for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants).
Also, be flexible and allow employees to stay at home if they need to care for a sick family member. During this current COVID-19 outbreak, employers should anticipate their employees may need to take carer’s leave more often than usual.
Revisit your sick-leave policies.
Make sure employees are aware of any policies you already have in place, but check that your policies are flexible enough to accommodate these kinds of situations and consistent with public health guidance. If you work with a third-party company that provides contract or temporary employees, talk with them about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
Lastly, during this period of pandemic, don’t require that sick employees provide a note from a healthcare professional to validate their illness or to return to work. With the current COVID-19 situation, physicians’ offices and medical facilities are extremely busy and may not be able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
Now is the perfect time to be proactive with prevention
A little sneeze can go a long way – whether you’re in the office or on a job site.
Here are a few things you can do to protect your people:
- Place posters and other educational materials that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at locations where they are likely to be seen in your company’s office, garage or other headquarters. Include your lunchroom or business entrance. Some materials are available online or at local public health locations.
- Talk to your employees. Let them know that you care about their health and safety, and are instituting a flexible sick leave policy and/or taking other important measures to help protect them.
- Equip them with the right gear. Consider buying a small crate of hand sanitizer and passing them out to your employees to help keep them safe. Make sure it’s an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol.
- If possible, provide trash cans with foot pedals onsite that don’t require touching to open.
- Instruct employees to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at least 3-4 times throughout the day. Soap and water should also be used if hands are visibly dirty.
- Here are two sites with more helpful information:
Make sure your offices are clean
Viruses and bacteria can linger almost anywhere – and for hours. It’s important that your office area – especially workstations, countertops, drawer handles, and doorknobs – are routinely cleaned with a cleaning agent designed for disinfecting. Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, keyboards, telephones, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
The COVID-19 virus isn’t limited to offices and indoor areas — especially not for construction and outdoor services employees. Therefore, it’s important that you also routinely clean areas where your crew may be during the day – especially truck interiors.
Work as a team
Even if you’ve put every possible prevention practice into place, you will most likely have employees who will get sick now and then – even if it’s not related to anything like COVID-19. Therefore, you always need to plan who should cover when people are unexpectedly out. This can be especially important for smaller firms with few employees who are already wearing several hats.
Take the time to cross-train employees to perform essential functions where possible during times of good health, perhaps even allowing your employees to “job shadow” one another, so that your business can still operate even if key staff members are absent.
Remember, absenteeism may not just be from an employee who is sick themselves. People may call in sick because they need to take care of an ill family member or have a child who must stay home because their school was closed due to illness.
Make sure to have your daily morning meetings
If you don’t have regular morning meetings, now is a great time to start them.
In general, daily touch bases are a great way for small businesses to all get on the same page before heading out to a job site. With the current COVID-19 making headlines every morning and the information we’re hearing changing almost daily, it’s important as a manager that you:
Allowing your employees to share what they’ve heard on the news can be both helpful and cathartic. Yes, some of it may seem sensational. If this happens, simply reply with sincere acknowledgments such as, “That’s interesting – has anyone else heard this, too?” This is not a forum for a debate, so don’t push back or allow others to denounce what’s being said by an individual. Rather, give everyone the chance to weigh in – or not, if they choose to simply listen.
- Advise precaution.
One of the best traits of any employer is to display a character of calmness, stability and confidence. Whether you realize this or not, they are looking to you to demonstrate these qualities. This is the perfect opportunity to remind your team about the precautions and procedures you’ve put into place.
It may take some time before the COVID-19 issue subsides – but it will. Until then, it may affect your business in ways we’ve already mentioned here (absenteeism, constant cleaning and canceled vacation plans). These are changes that may seem taxing to your team’s daily routine as well as slowly eroding morale. Use these morning meetings as a chance to ask a seemingly general yet very meaningful question, “So, how is everyone doing?” If you know someone who is handling a heavier-than-normal workload, ask them specifically how they are doing. If they need help, someone else on your team may take this as an opportunity to step up.
For your administrative workers, suggest working remotely
Working from home is a growing trend as more employees are demonstrating the ability to get their work done without needing to physically be in the office every workday. If you have office-based employees who are already working part-time from home (or remotely), encourage that they keep doing this during this time. If possible, have them call into a group call on speakerphone when you are having your daily morning meetings. This will allow them to participate in the discussion as well as lets those in the office know they are available.
Look at the bigger picture
Inviting daily discussion and allowing your team to bring their concerns to the table is healthy for any small business. But it’s also the hallmark of a great business owner to keep things in perspective and not allow the tempo of the discussion to get lost in the weeds. As you are listening and advising, calmly remind your employees that the current coronavirus situation is a chapter in time – and one you will get through as a team. Use this as an opportunity to pull your employees closer together. This might be reflected in the positive way you conduct business with clients – and something that may make your company stronger in the long run.
Again, for the latest reliable information as well as prevention steps, visit the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.