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BusinessMarch 16, 2020

Some practical steps for workplaces in a Covid-19 world

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Both the outbreak and the measures put in place to staunch it are already having a major impact on New Zealand businesses. It won’t solve all your problems, but amid the maelstrom you can introduce some simple practical measures for health and infection control, writes former public health worker Richard Simpson.

How do you plan for Covid-19 in your workplace, and keep people motivated and interested for months when it can be unclear what you are preparing for?

It is important to create a pandemic preparedness plan if you haven’t already, and one step of this is working through the different options and talking about how everyone can play a part.

At the management and strategic level, a lot of this pandemic preparedness is about old-fashioned business continuity (such as absenteeism, resources, backup staff, supplier arrangements and contractual requirements). While there are many moving parts, it can help to focus in turn on practical things that everyone can contribute to. Such as how to take these public health and infection control messages you are hearing and put them into practice.

Mnemonics are a great way to determine what is relevant, to get some discussion going and to give people a sense of control. If you’re giving a presentation you’ll probably have the old adage in mind to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and to make sure your points are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely).

Mnemonics are already a useful tool for emergency management and training in general. At an emergency scene, someone trained in CIMS (Coordinated Incident Management System) may run through a GSMEAC briefing to get you up-to-speed on the Ground, Situation, Management, Execution, Administration and Logistics, Command, Control, Communications of an incident. First aiders might run through DRSABCD (Dangers, Response, Send for help, Airway, Breathing, CPR, Defib), and if you sprain you ankle you will be sure to go and RICE it with Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

Think of the infection risks in the workplace, for your team, or for your individual roles. Remember that Covid-19 is typically spread by close contact or droplets and can largely be managed by simple, practical cleaning.


What would it mean to remove the risk? Such as for staff to work from home? To have virtual instead of physical meetings?

What would be the cost, such as additional time, resources, money, productivity, relationships with customers, staff and clients? How quickly could you implement? How sustainable would it be?


How about if you replace some of the steps in a process? Such as taking away the pen and paper of the sign-in book at reception – and asking someone to give the information verbally? Or asking customers to pick up their food at the counter rather than wait staff walking around the tables?

Again – what is the cost, speed of implementation and sustainability?


Another priority will be to reduce the risk. To use hand sanitiser and to regularly wipe down surfaces? To increase social distancing in the office and for meeting rooms? To keep close patient/customer contact to a minimum?

Cost? Speed? Sustainability?


Do you have forms and a process to record Covid-19-specific incidents and to document the steps you took? If a customer or client tells you they were ill? If a staff member comes down with Covid-19 and you want to check who they interacted with? To document a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) failure for (trained) staff who may be unfamiliar with the type or level of PPE, or who are finding it challenging to use the PPE more often?

What can you do now?

  • Run a quick workshop.
  • Introduce mnemonics such as Remove, Replace, Reduce, Record.
  • Notice what options stand out in discussions, and talk about how everyone can play a part.
  • Send people home with “four R” wallet cards or posters.
  • Email a tidy summary of options to senior management.

Any other mnemonics that might help? Let us know.

Keep going!