Contingency planning for COVID-19 exposure risks

Aug 21, 2020

COVID-19 highlighted weaknesses in many business continuity plans. Now is the time to reassess risk and update your plan, says Teresa Campbell.

The public health restrictions introduced to control the spread of COVID-19 highlighted contingency planning weaknesses across many sectors of the economy. Consequently, businesses are currently reassessing risks and seeking new ways to mitigate against the potential disruption of local lockdowns, difficulties accessing necessary services or supplies, travel and logistics disruption and changing customer demands.

The purpose of a contingency plan is for an organisation to return to its daily operations as quickly as possible with all risks outlined and actions identified to mitigate. The starting point is deciding what you want the plan to achieve. Allocate responsibility for the plan to a senior member of your team and, where possible, involve HR, communications, legal, health and safety, and operations team representatives.

List out your organisation’s products and services, then examine the costs and revenue associated with each, update contact lists, identify the potential impact of disruption on employees, operations and customers, and work out what actions can be taken to protect against these risks.

Make sure your contingency planning team familiarises themselves with relevant COVID-19 guidance. In the Republic of Ireland, this includes the Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol and in Northern Ireland, the COVID-19: Working Through This Together.

Where business activity temporarily ceased due to COVID-19, the complexity of the recovery process will need to be considered, with objectives for businesses likely to include:

  • Protecting people (employees and their families, customers, suppliers): This may involve adapting workplaces to accommodate physical distancing, minimising social contact, improving cleaning and sanitisation. The plan should highlight the importance of staying away from work if employees have any symptoms. Communication will be key, and procedures should be developed for and conveyed to employees or close contacts who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or if they feel unwell.
  • Finding ways to continue operating: If employees, customers, contractors, and suppliers cannot access your place of business, you must have back-up plans to remain in operation.
  • Ensuring the business complies with health and safety legislation: This is essential to protect both your organisation and your employees.
  • Protecting liquidity and financial stability: Monitor cashflow, optimise working capital, and avail of COVID-19 funding, grants and tax incentives (where relevant) to protect liquidity and financial stability.
  • Prioritising remote working: Make sure that your remote working systems are in place at all times so that in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in the area, the risk of exposure for employees can be reduced.
  • Cross-training Train your staff so that they can cover for one another.
  • Communicating the contingency plan: Clearly convey your contingency plan to internal and external stakeholders so that they understand how COVID-19 may affect your business and show them what they can do to help minimise the impact.
  • Ensuring the business operates in a socially responsible manner: Act fast and don’t try to cover anything up. If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the area, use your contingency plan to keep your business operating while also being socially responsible.

Going forward, businesses will need to continue to comply with public health restrictions, so regular monitoring of Department of Health and WHO COVID-19 updates is important. Contingency planning must become a routine part of every business operations; without one during these times, your business will fall behind. 

Teresa Campbell is a Director in PKF-FPM.