May 27, 2020

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. It is the largest global disruption of business since the Second World War, with several industries, such as live entertainment and events, having all but evaporated in a matter of weeks.

As governments around the world begin easing restrictions, it is imperative that businesses and their risk managers be able to figure out how to restart operations under a ‘new normal’, as well as maintain practices picked up during quarantine, such as expanded remote work.

According to David Wald, CEO and co-founder of risk reduction platform Aclaimant, the pandemic has changed the nature of work in several ways, such as shelter-in-place orders accelerating the need for remote teams.

“Since people are no longer co-located and able to work in different locations, creating digital processes and practices have become more important to streamline across businesses,” he told Corporate Risk and Insurance. “Risk and safety initiatives have also taken new precedence inside of organizations, as risk now takes on a tangible impact to the bottom line and the health of both employees and customers.”

Due to the pandemic, several risks have emerged or have been amplified, and these have reached the attention of the risk community.

“Unemployment, coupled with an economic recession, is a major driver of insurance claims, including workers’ compensation insurance and employment practices liability insurance,” Wald said. “Businesses are also facing new challenges, from being forced to close their doors due to government-mandated shelter-in-place orders to the inability to reach their goods caused by the current stress on supply chains. There’s also an inability to staff in certain markets because of an overall lack of talent or the lack of interest from many potential employees to work in these settings due to unsafe work conditions.”

Wald believes companies are facing unprecedented risks. For example, illnesses at work, along with employees or customers who get sick on the job and/or are exposed at work, now become the employer’s responsibility. This could lead to wrongful death suits and, potentially, COVID-19-specific lawsuits moving forward.

“We’re likely going to enter one of the most litigious periods in US history as a result of the coronavirus,” he said.

What can be learned from essential industries?
Wald said that it is crucial for essential businesses to have a plan to track and document everything, not just during, but also after the pandemic subsides. Companies must use proactive, reactive, and continuous monitoring of facilities and jobs to ensure their employees are safe.

Some of Aclaimant’s clients have implemented activities, including heat checks, long-term reduced capacity plans, employee pre-screening checklists, new procedures for documenting and tracking a workplace illness, and preparation for future disruption of either supply chain or business needs.

“We’re entering a new world, and everyone is trying to figure out what that will look like while staying on top of guidance from state and federal entities, while determining how to operate and keep everyone safe,” Wald said.

“Every company is only as good as its employees, and if it can’t protect its employees, then it can’t protect its business. Employee health and customer health are now more intimately tied to bottom line profits than ever before. A perfect example is the meat packing plants affected by COVID-19 outbreaks. If they can’t keep employees safe, no-one will want to work and they won’t be able to effectively run their business.”

Wald advised risk managers to be proactive and follow the best practices from doctors and trusted advisors. They must implement checks to prevent unnecessary exposure or contact in the workplace, understand and monitor regulation, and look to peers for best practices.

Most importantly, Wald stressed the need for risk managers to coordinate with their leadership team to get buy-in on reopening plans and how to operate in a new normal so everyone is on the same page – which will then trickle down to employees.

As published in Insurance Business America