Safety and Health During the Road to Recovery

John Harp, CSP, ARM—Risk Engineering Consultant, MSIG Insurance Group

Almost two months ago we thought the pandemic would be winding down to the point of normalcy as the 100 Days of Sum-mer is upon us. Currently, many events and conditions are impacting this return to what we thought could be serving customers and operating as usual.

There is a steady decline in the number of COVID cases nationwide, but there are disparities in these improvements by state or county. Check Worldometers for a country, state, and county daily update: (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us). Continue to monitor conditions in your area as conditions change. Check with your local health department for the latest information. Find your local health department here: https://www.naccho.org/membership/lhd-directory.

The experts predict COVID will be with us for years and possibly escalate in the Fall. Regardless of the possibilities, there remains a need for continuing high levels of care and concern for the customers, and the employee’s health and wellness. The expectations of the customers and employees have changed, and successful store operations depend on adapting to these new expectations.

Although unique to most businesses, the 7-Eleven stores have remained open during the worst phase of the pandemic and do not face the difficult task of reopening. But, there is a reopening to consider as customer traffic increases with more people returning to work. With many employers having employees work at home, there may be lessened peaks in traffic, but a continuing stream of traffic at all hours. This can be positive and negative.

The key to success in this new era is having a clear strategy, one that involves your employees, customers, vendors, and partners outside the company.

YOUR EMPLOYEES
Many have been working through the entire situation, while others may have taken time off because of health, family health, childcare, and more. Questions to ask:

  • Do you or your managers ask the employee’s every day, “How are you and do you have any concerns, including COVID?” How is your family?
  • Is the employee following CDC and store guidelines regarding masks, gloves, sanitizing, and limiting contact with customer items?
  • Have you reminded employees how to de-escalate an angry or frustrated customer?

Employee theft tends to increase in difficult times. As hours are reduced, another part-time job is gone or financial matters at home worsen, increasing diligence will be essential through internal audits and communication with employees on procedures.

If an employee calls in with a positive COVID test or a family member is positive, follow the procedures as detailed by the CDC. If the employee feels it’s from the store, report it immediately to your insurance company for inves-tigation and resolution. It could be a viable workers compensation claim, but if the employee is not allowed to pursue a claim, there could be legal and financial implications.

Telehealth—Most medical and workers compensation insurance companies offer a video or phone consultation. Encourage your employees to contact you about calling in medical concerns before going to a clinic. MSIG policyholders have this workers compensation service available.

YOUR CUSTOMERS
SEI and your city or state will provide the guidelines as the reopening progresses. Your customers are expected to follow the current guidelines, but what if they don’t?
If a customer is supposed to wear a mask, what will you say? Remind employee’s how to manage the situation. Communication tips:

  • Be nice. Use “please” stating the facts without emotion.
  • Say what you need to say, then stop. Do not demand or touch a customer or employee. If you have to let it go, let it go. As the responsible leader, you or your manager should manage this by moving on but if it’s an employee being resistant to a request, circle back and work with them to ensure procedures are followed.
  • Escalate then de-escalate. If someone does not want to comply, remind the employee rules are important, but move it up to a manager or you, or in the absence of management refer to “Be nice, let it go.” Emotions with anger can quickly happen, especially now.

CRIME
Robbery, assault, and crime in general fell rapidly starting March 15. (Domestic violence, however, increased.) As the stay at home orders are progressively lifted, there is a high probability of more crime on the way.

Frustration and the current economic conditions will impact the criminal element, and willingness to commit robbery and shoplifting. Remain diligent in your crime control efforts.
Refresh employee training, including Operation Alert. Follow-up with reminders, especially for new employees. Key training points:

  • Be alert to customer behavior.
  • Do not leave the store to follow or confront a customer.
  • Do not accuse a customer of a crime or escalate a confrontation.

PATH TO SUCCESS
Profitability, employee health, and sound risk management require an interconnected group of key elements to store success. Store conditions are the physical aspects of santizing cleanliness, and good housekeeping. Appearance matters!

Health and safety are the procedures, training, and general conditions to assure your customers and employees feel and are safe.

Stress has increased for everyone. Talk to your employees and encourage using out-side resources (refer them to local mental health resources or this national helpline—https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline).

Employment rules are more con-fusing than ever. Be mindful of workers compensation, wage and hours, privacy, and dealing with employees refusing to work. If you have a management liability policy contact them for guidance, consult with the NCASEF labor lawyer or reference: (https://www. eeoc.gov/employers/small-business).
Engage in communication that is timely and frequent to create a shared sense of safety and security among your employees.

CONCLUSION
Employee injuries at the store will likely increase with the increasing customer traffic, frequency of deliveries, and enhanced cleaning requirements. Remember the big three causes driving almost 70 percent of store injuries: 

1. Assaults
2. Slip and Falls
3. Lifting, Overexertion

These are the most frequent and most costly to the workers compensation program, and require even more diligence to manage employee safety and bottom-line costs.
These are challenging times and there will be changes in the retail world. It’s an ideal time to rethink what’s important and how a solid risk management strategy can help prevent injuries and improve your customer experience as we move forward.

For training resources, sample programs, and guidance on best practices, contact your insurance company or broker/agent. 

JOHN HARP CAN BE REACHED AT jharp@msigusa.com or 908-604-2951