Over the past week, the news has been dominated by reports of the spread of the Wuhun Novel Coronovirus (more commonly referred to as “coronavirus”) which at the time of writing this has killed 132 people and infected 6000 – spreading so rapidly that confirmed cases rose by nearly a third overnight.
With Australia ranked 10th in the list of places that have the highest risk from the spread of coronavirus, it is essential that precautionary measures are taken to contain the risk of the spread of the virus in the workplace.
Symptoms and Transmission
The common coronavirus usually causes mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, similar to the common cold. The Wahun Novel Coronavirus however, is a novel one belonging to the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from infected animal hosts and is spread by coming into contact with an infected person
Symptoms of the Wahun Coronavirus range from common to severe respiratory illnesses and include:
- Difficulty breathing
The virus is known to cause viral pneumonia, leading to organ failure and ultimately, death in extreme cases. As this is a viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use and there is no other know cure. If people are admitted to hospitals, they may get support for their organs, but recovery depends on their immunity system’s ability to fight off the infection.
Tips for employers
While it is currently unclear how contagious coronavirus is, health officials advise that the public take precautionary measures to stop the spread of infection such as washing their hands with soap and water, avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands and staying at home if ill.
- Alert employees as to the symptoms and risks associated with coronavirus, as well as prevention measures
- Encourage employees to wash their hands throughout the day and particularly after coughing, sneezing and after touching objects that have come into contact with people exhibiting flu-like symptoms
- Encourage employees to reconsider any non-essential travel to China
- Encourage employees to avoid close contact with people that are sick
- Provide hand sanitisers if appropriate
- Provide face masks is appropriate – remember that a mask will not prevent a person transmitting the virus, but it may be helpful in preventing the spread
- Review cleaning procedures and regularly disinfect workstations and equipment
- Request that all employees who have travelled to China recently, or have come into contact with people who have travelled to China, self-quarantine for a period of two weeks
- Request that sick employees stay home
- Request that employees with sick family members stay home
- Consider accommodating at-risk employees by the use of alternative work arrangements such as working from home arrangements
Have a plan
- Identify a team (Human Resources) responsible for planning for a pandemic, including establishing a process for obtaining and implementing public health directives
- Determine who will be responsible for issuing communication related to coronavirus
- Communicate the expectations of the business around the symptoms of coronavirus and when employees should self-exclude from the workplace
Consider whether you can operate normally
- Re-consider any business-related travel to China
- Determine to what extent the business can operate normally in the event of an actual pandemic
- Assess staffing needs, including alternative working arrangements, and alternative means of getting work done without direct human-to-human contact (eg. Remote work and telecommuting)
- Assess the effects of a pandemic on suppliers, service providers and customers
- Review insurance coverage and agreements to determine how you would meet your contractual obligations if you are unable to operate normally in a pandemic
- Where applicable and appropriate, consider asking visitors prior to attending the workplace if they have recently travelled to China, or have come into contact with someone who may be infected with coronavirus
- Have hand sanitiser readily available
Lastly, reassure employees that the spread of coronavirus outside of China, while worrying, is not an unexpected development and thus there is no need to panic. The key is to be prepared and that the business will keep them updated should there be any change in the situation.
If you would like further assistance in developing a Coronavirus plan for your organisation, please speak with one of our HR Consultants or call sign up to our Human Resources Knowledge Centre blog for updates