With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affecting businesses across Australia, companies are having to change their approach to emergency management planning. Widespread disruption is causing an unprecedented level of stress and anxiety in personnel, and challenging businesses ability to deal with risk effectively.

Whether your organisation has a robust emergency management strategy already in place or are currently looking at implementing a risk management protocol, the impact of COVID-19 needs to factor largely in your planning.

Businesses who already have an existing risk management and emergency management strategy may need to make specific changes in line with evolving legislation, government guidelines and increased health and safety concerns.

For those who are yet to turn their corporate eye to risk management and emergency management, the principles outlined in this article will assist them in moving through the current crisis and beyond.

Identify Your Risks

With the unexpected rise of Coronavirus across Australia, risk profiles have changed considerably.

Companies use risk management to predict the unpredictable. In order to navigate the risks associated with COVID-19, it is crucial that you first identify what these risks are.

Variations in regulatory advice, the ongoing needs of your customers and the changing nature of working arrangements are rapidly evolving and need to be integrated into your risk management strategy.

Take some time to assess and catalogue the current and anticipated risks your company may face over the next three months, six months, nine months and year. Evaluate which risks are rising in importance, which are likely to become significant issues and what the potential ramifications of these risks are.

In identifying these risks effectively, you should consider:

  • Risks associated with all impact areas of your business, including human, operational, financial, reputation, strategic, and environmental.
  • Gathering input from a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including staff and clients to help identify risks you may not have thought about.
  • Look closely at your supply chain and how other businesses may impact on your ability to protect your people, assets, and operations.

Be Agile and Embrace Current Challenges

As we collectively navigate a new normal, businesses need to remain agile, with an ability to change direction at a moment’s notice. As Einstein once said ‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.’

Now more than ever, organisations need to flexible. An emergency management strategy that was drawn up twelve months ago may no longer be relevant. This involves leaders embracing the challenges, assessing the risks, and determining a way forward with a strong focus on people safety.

Some current challenges your workforce may face in emergency management planning include:

  • How to properly train and prepare staff who are working remotely
  • Ensuring you will have sufficient wardens present on-site in case of an emergency
  • How to move people to safety during an emergency while balancing the question around maintaining social distancing rules
  • Previously designated assembly areas may no longer be suitable in light of social distancing requirements
  • The ability to remain compliant with regards to emergency training and drills
  • Schools may face challenges around pick up and drop-offs and might need to consider alternate areas (and times) for parents to pick up their children.
  • Ensuring employees and students who are working and studying remotely have received sufficient communication and training in line with Workplace Health and Safety regulations
  • The ability of staff who are working from home to access emergency management plans

While all of this may seem overwhelming, particularly for small to medium businesses, by remaining agile, continuing to evaluate risks and ensuring you stay compliant with current legislation you can move your team through emergencies with confidence.

Stay Compliant

In these uncertain times, staying compliant with relevant legislation, standards and best practice is imperative to ensure the safety of your personnel and assets should an emergency occur.

Despite the changing nature of work and ongoing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, compliance with AS3745-2010 Planning for emergencies in facilities, is still a requirement for all Australian businesses.

Requirements include all businesses having the following:

  • An Established Emergency Planning Committee
  • An Established Emergency Control Organisation (warden team)
  • Emergency Response Procedures
  • Evacuation diagrams
  • Warden identification
  • Training for the Emergency Control Organisation and Emergency Planning Committee
  • Awareness training for all staff, contractors, other occupants
  • Evacuation and lockdown drills

It is important to note that individual states and territories may also have specific government regulations that need to be met, along with newly established COVID-19 health regulations including social distancing, hand hygiene, and registration processes.

Find Solutions

Rather than focusing on what can’t be controlled, leaders must look to find solutions to current emergency management challenges.

The following will assist you remain compliant and ensure you are prepared for an emergency should it arise:

On-Site

  • Review the number and availability of ECO (wardens) to ensure emergency processes can be implemented on-site during an emergency, taking into account who is working remotely and who will be available on site.
  • Ensure new ECO receive the required training for their role.
  • Consider implementing an online training program for ECO for those working remotely.
  • Communicate with staff around the prioritisation of safety during an emergency; People safety always takes precedence over social distancing – if there is a need to evacuate, a prompt, efficient evacuation takes priority, with social distancing re-instated at the assembly area where possible.
  • Review your primary and alternate assembly areas. Outside assembly areas will make social distancing more feasible. You may need to consider moving some people to an alternate assembly area if required.
  • Continue conducting drills to primary assembly areas to ensure the processes remain current, continue making enhancements and ensuring your staff are aware of the procedures to follow.
  • Conduct drills to the alternate assembly area(s) to ensure any gaps in the process are identified and improved as needed.
  • Ensure adequate signage is posted around the building / site to ensure people know where they need to move to in an emergency, particularly if there have been changes to the assembly area locations.
  • Ensure your plans have been updated due to any changes because of COVID-19.
  • Ensure plans are accessible.

 For Remote Workers

  • Conduct awareness training for staff who are working from home covering WHS/OHS requirements.
  • Ensure processes have been established for emergency responses for people working from home.

For Schools

  • Review parent pick-up processes and locations. Identify alternate areas if necessary.
  • Establish emergency processes for students, parents, and conduct any required training for staff.
  • Communicate any necessary information to staff, students and parents.

At Bounce, we work with businesses to ensure they are prepared for any emergency that may arise. We offer consulting and training services, including eLearning design and development. For assistance with any part of your emergency management planning, contact us today on 1300 650 954 or email info@bouncereadiness.com.au