March 12, 2020

Pandemics and viral outbreaks can be challenging to plan for effectively. Beyond the immediate threat of the virus, there are many factors which businesses and facilities need to account for such as increased rate of employee absenteeism, service disruption, supply chain interruptions, alternative working arrangements and much more.

Included in this planning guide we cover general planning recommendations and guidance provided by multiple public health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Public Health Agencies.

YOUR FACILITY’S PANDEMIC PLAN

Here are some general guidelines for pandemic planning and response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

If you would like one of our decontamination experts to contact you to help develop your facility’s Pandemic Plan CLICK HERE.

Establish a Pandemic Planning Task Force

This task force will be responsible for managing all aspects of your pandemic plan accounting for all departments so it is important to have representation from each department as well as any specialized tasks that may require unique precautions. It is important the task force considers all aspects of the business and potential impact of a pandemic outbreak.

Integrate your Pandemic Plan

Your facility’s pandemic plan should be integrated into your overall disaster recovery plan. Aspects like defining staging areas and how your property will handle increased deliveries are crucial include in your pandemic plan. Keep in mind that your company may experience an increase of employee absenteeism, so it is good practice to have multiple employees tasked and trained for each aspect of your plan.

Define your Pandemic Plan

Clearly outline your pandemic response. Be as specific as possible making sure to include aspects such as; preparedness activities, templates and tools needed for an effective response and who is responsible for each aspect of the plan. It is important to consider various scenarios ranging from a mild outbreak or pandemic to a more severe scenario, making sure to specify the actions required in the different scenarios.

The following information should be included in your Pandemic Plan:

  • Plan activation triggers
  • Essential functions which need to be maintained during a pandemic
  • Staffing required to maintain these functions
  • Cross-training required to ensure critical functions are maintained
  • Equipment, supplies and suppliers required to enable the continuity of essential functions
  • Equipment and training required to properly prepare employees to protect their health and safety
  • Protocols for employees and visitors during a pandemic
  • Crisis communication 

Train Employees and Stakeholders

Even the most well thought out Pandemic Plan will not be effective unless key individuals are properly trained on the response. If your facility is impacted by a pandemic, it will be too late for training. Take the opportunity before the pandemic or outbreak and train all individuals with responsibility in your Pandemic Plan. 

Coordinate your Pandemic Plan

Once you have your pandemic plan developed, communicate the plan to key stakeholders, suppliers, community partners and any other individuals or companies that will be required to effectively respond to a pandemic according to your defined plan.

EMPLOYEE HEALTH & SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

The health and safety of employees in a pandemic is a crucial concern for your Pandemic Planning Task Force. Here are a few considerations adapted from the United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic:

  • Identify exposure and health risks to your employees. Which personnel have a lot of contact with the general public?
  • Some staff, including those who are immune-compromised and pregnant employees may have additional individual risk factors which need to be addressed.
  • Think about how to adapt services and processes using social distancing. Social distancing means minimizing human-to-human contact. Some adaptations for consideration include: avoiding face-to-face meetings whenever possible; if an in-person meeting is required keep the meeting short and select a large meeting room; choosing communication and network technologies/ devices to communicate with others; avoiding unnecessary business travel; cancelling or postponing workshops and training sessions; leaving gaps between shifts; and ventilating workspaces between shifts.

HR Policies

  • Develop policies and practices that distance employees from each other, customers and the public. For example, pandemic work-from-home and flexible policies for work hours.
  • Develop a sick leave policy which does not penalize sick employees and encourages employees with pandemic related symptoms to stay home. Recognize that employees with ill family members may need to stay home to care for them.
  • Develop vacation and leave policies applicable in a pandemic situation.
  • Develop a policy which addresses what to do when an employee falls ill at work, including how to ascertain when the employee is well enough to return to work.

Education

  • Consider using a web-based employee forum to answer employees’ questions and address concerns about pay, leave, and health and safety. Informed employees who feel safe at work are less likely to be absent.
  • Provide training, education and informational material about business-essential job functions and employee health and safety, including proper hygiene practices and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to be used in the workplace, based upon current advice from public health authorities. Be sure that information is available in formats for individuals with sensory disabilities and/or limited English proficiency.
  • Provide information and/or training to assist employees in managing pandemic stress, including distress related to personal or family illness, life disruption, grief related to loss of family, friends or coworkers, and loss of routine support systems. Provide options for support and counseling.
  • Engage with your Employee Assistance Program to arrange counseling, training and resources on mental health and resiliency in a pandemic.

a woman works remotely from the safety of her home

PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT

Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene is a critical measure used to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Transmission of influenza can occur by indirect contact from hands and articles freshly soiled with discharges of the nose and throat of an acutely ill individual. By frequently washing your hands you wash away germs that you have picked up from other people, or from contaminated surfaces. Make sure your employees have access to information, including posters, videos, etc. from public health authorities about how to maintain good hand hygiene.

Personal Protective Equipment and Protective Barriers

Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to specialized clothing or equipment worn to protect someone against a hazard. In a pandemic, PPE can be a mask or a pair of gloves and/or a combination of gear that covers most or all of the body. Employees who require PPE will first need to be trained on its use, care, and safe disposal. 

Protective barriers (i.e., glass or plastic) may provide useful protection for people such as front-counter staff who have frequent face to face contact with the public and in environments where social distancing is neither possible nor practical.

It is important to note that not all masks work the same way, i.e. a disposable surgical mask does not function in the same way as a respirator. At this time, it is thought that in most workplaces, PPE will likely not be effective or practical in containing the spread of a virus. During a pandemic, it is critically important for workplaces to regularly check public health, and local ministries or departments of labor. Recommendations about the use of PPE will likely depend on the virus itself – how fast it spreads, the actual size of the agent, and how much a person would need to inhale before becoming ill. If public health agencies or other governments departments recommend PPE, or if your workplace chooses to use PPE, it will be important to use the right kinds of PPE in the right way.

Finally, establish a policy on who should use PPE, what they require, and when they should wear PPE. Consider how you will train staff on PPE, including how to fit, wear, remove and dispose of used PPE. 

Cleaning

Virus transmission can be reduced by thoroughly cleaning the environment and hard surfaces, such as sinks, handles, railings, objects, and counters, with detergents and disinfectant solutions. Consider cleaning frequency requirements, for example, will elevator buttons and door pulls require cleaning more frequently than other surfaces? 

Air Quality

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in commercial buildings provide indoor air quality to maintain comfort, dilute and remove contaminants from indoor air, and provide proper building pressurization. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has published a position document which is relevant to pandemic planning. ASHRAE notes that many infectious diseases are transmitted through inhalation of airborne infectious particles termed “droplet nuclei” which can be disseminated through building ventilation systems. It recommends considering dilution ventilation, specific in room flow regimes, room pressure differentials, personalized and source capture ventilation, filtration and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) in a pandemic emergency.

During a pandemic, air control strategies may need to be altered and or isolated depending on any building area that may be impacted by infectious particles. An example of a pandemic air control would be utilizing 100% outdoor air, highly filtered in these infectious areas.

SUPPLIES AND SUPPLIERS

Although handwashing is frequently referred to as the most effective step an individual can take to reduce the chance of infection in a pandemic, there are additional measures which public health authorities may advise to augment soap and water. For example, hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment will be in high demand leading up to and during a pandemic. Without careful planning, access to these critical items may become extremely difficult because of exceptional demand and interruptions in manufacturing and distribution systems.

Hand Sanitizer

  • Hand sanitizer is an important addition to the infection control line of defense. Ensure the product has at least 60% alcohol content for effective virus control.
  • Because of its alcohol content, the World Health Organization recommends that hand sanitizer should be stored away from high temperatures and flames to reduce fire hazard.
  • Position hand sanitizing dispensers at building entrances and exits including service entrances and exits. When choosing a dispenser, preference should be given to those with sufficient capacity so that the sanitizing agent does not run out frequently during the day. Larger buildings may also wish to store a few extra dispensers to be used when necessary.
  • Don’t forget to place hand sanitizing dispensers in mechanical and electrical rooms, elevator machine rooms, main janitor service rooms, etc. Third party contractors move from building to building and can therefore spread illness easily.

Other Pandemic Supplies

In addition to PPE and hand sanitizer, noted below are additional pandemic supplies you may wish to keep on-hand:

  • Tissues
  • Garbage containers for used tissues
  • Disposable disinfectant wipes
  • Additional cleaning supplies 
  • Additional washroom waste receptacles

BUSINESS CONTINUITY

“A pandemic could severely threaten the large workforce of commercial facilities, compromising facility operations or limiting services. Pandemics can also spread easily through commercial facilities, as large groups of people congregate in them daily. This could have an economic effect on businesses if customers choose to stay home rather than risk infection. Many private businesses lack system-wide business continuity plans for catastrophic health emergencies. Plans must account for extreme health impact assumptions as well as containment.” 

– U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Commercial Facilities Sector-Specific Plan: An Annex to the 2013 NIPP (2015)

There are three main business continuity challenges companies can expect in a pandemic:

Absenteeism – A pandemic may affect a large percentage of your workforce during periods of peak illness. Employees could be absent because they are sick, must care for sick family members or for children if schools or day care centers are closed, or are afraid to come to work.

Change in patterns of commerce – Items related to infection control will be in high demand, while consumer demand for other items may decline. Consumers may also change how they shop, preferring to shop at off-peak hours to reduce contact with other people, using home delivery services, or seeking out drive-through services to minimize person-to-person contact.

Interrupted supply/delivery – Shipments from areas severely affected by a pandemic may be delayed.

Developing your Business Continuity Plan

Your pandemic business continuity plan should be based on the following assumptions:

  • Attack (infection) and fatality rates
  • Population susceptibility (vulnerability)
  • Worker absenteeism levels
  • Duration of the pandemic event
  • Possible multiple waves of illness and pandemic occurrence

It is recommended that your plan addresses the following considerations, according to the World Health Organization’s 2013 Pandemic Influenza Risk Management Interim Guidance:

  • Critical functions that will need to be sustained and those that can be stopped for a period.
  • Personnel, supplies, and equipment vital to maintain essential functions.
  • How to deal with the anticipated level of staff absenteeism and minimize its impact on activities,
  • Clear command structures, delegations of authority, and orders of succession for workers.
  • An assessment of the need to stockpile strategic reserves of supplies, and equipment, including those necessary to protect health of employees.
  • Clear identification of who is going to do what.

Units, departments, or services that could be downsized or closed to reallocate human and material resources.

  • Assignments & training of alternates for critical posts.
  • Established guidelines for priority of access to essential services.
  • Plan for security risks to operations and supply chain.
  • Staff training on infection control and communication of essential safety messages.
  • Consideration of the need for family and childcare support for essential workers.
  • Consideration of the need for psycho-social support services to help workers remain effective.
  • Consideration and planning for the recovery phase.
  • Plan to exercise and revise the plan on a regular basis.

Contact ServiceMaster By Rice

We here at ServiceMaster By Rice hope the information provided in this planning guide helps you and your organization better prepare for a possible pandemic and the Coronavirus outbreak. We pride ourselves on service excellence and are here to help with any Pandemic Planning you and your organization are completing. We have seen disasters of all types, including previous Coronavirus outbreaks such as SARS. 

If you feel your facility may have been exposed to the coronavirus or would like help in preparing your Pandemic Plan, we are here to help. All of our locations can provide cleaning and decontamination services and our Des Moines office has established a team with the sole focus of COVID-19 protocols and decontamination. If you have questions, give us a call at 800-727-8515 or reach out to [email protected].

To learn more about the coronavirus, possible exposure and treatment call us at 1-800-727-8515.