As some businesses resume operations, how do PI-entrepreneurs mitigate risks to employees and clients?
As the novel coronavirus shapes history with its extraordinary infectiousness and lethality, almost every aspect of life as we once knew it has been altered. Combatting the risks of community spread are jobs for local, state, and national governments, with strategic guidance from public health agencies like the CDC.
In some places, these strategies do seem to be slowing transmission rates. But these efforts have inarguably added to both the stress of cooped-up families and the distress of business owners now confronted with the terrible moral quandary of personal safety vs. economic ruin.
Plans to loosen many states’ stay-at-home orders remain a work in progress. But it’s safe to say that when businesses resume more normal operations, private investigation firms should anticipate interactions with clients suffering from “pandemic stress” — the emotional toll of trauma, born of prolonged fear, uncertainty, and deep personal losses. You’ve seen it in the grocery store, in the park or on Facebook: it doesn’t take much to set folks off these days. Rage seems almost as contagious as the virus itself.
There’s no way to respond to all the risks posed by this pandemic — risks to life and livelihood, the threat of increased fraud and crime amidst the confusion, and the danger of civil strife and chaos in the hardest-hit places. With government policies and public health guidelines in mind, what measures should business owners take to mitigate risks to themselves and their employees, as we move into the next phase of the pandemic?
Security preparedness for these kinds of invisible risks means adopting a variety of measures — or a “hierarchy of controls” — common to the professional disciplines of industrial hygiene and occupational health & safety.
A Hierarchy of Protection Measures
Occupational safety and health professionals often use a “hierarchy of protection measures” to control airborne hazards or infectious diseases like COVID-19.
Zero risk is not a realistic goal; what you’re shooting for is decreasing the risks as best you can, by choosing a strategic combination of reasonable protective measures.
If you’re a PI business owner making tough decisions about how and when to resume normal operations, please consider some of the following safety measures. Do confer with local health department representatives, insurance carriers, and property owners as you’re implementing these defenses.
- Reduce the maximum occupancy of your office to comply with CDC or Dept. of Health guidelines.
- Install high-efficiency air filters and increase HVAC ventilation rates in office environments.
- Install clear “sneeze guard” physical barriers that are suspended, counter-mounted, or free-standing between work stations and in conference rooms.
- Use strategies to encourage social distancing, such as video conferencing and well-spaced visitor seating.
- Create signage promoting social hygiene and distancing consistent with CDC & Health Department guidance.
- Assure work environments are cleaned and sanitized daily.
- After every office visit, disinfect all surfaces clients have touched.
- Consider installing ultra-violet (UV) light sanitizers in office environments for use after hours.
- Firmly encourage workers who may be ill to stay home or self-isolate.
- Minimize public and coworker contact with office staff and clients by replacing live meetings with virtual communications like FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom, where feasible.
- Modify office hours and work schedules to minimize concurrent office staffing.
- Provide all staff with training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviors, such as respiratory etiquette, proper hand washing, and work area sanitation procedures.
- Require virtual communications between staff and clients for anyone who is self-isolating, potentially symptomatic, or confirmed to have COVID-19.
Safe Work Practices:
- Require staff to practice regular hand washing for 20 seconds with soap, hourly.
- Provide work environment resources that promote personal hygiene (e.g. no-touch trash cans, alcohol-based hand rubs, aerosol disinfectants, and disposable towels for staff to clean their work surfaces).
- Place hand-washing signs in staff restrooms and restrict access to staff restrooms.
- Offer Internet-based “anger de-escalation” training for staff, to prepare for clients under acute “Pandemic Stress Syndrome.”
- Provide individual office supplies (pens, telephones, staplers) to staff so they won’t have to share, and disinfect common equipment after every use (e.g. copiers key pads, filing cabinet drawer handles, or seal embossers).
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
- Provide Latex/Nitrile gloves for all employees working at the office or in the field.
- Require face coverings for all employees working at the office or in public spaces.
- Encourage employees to wear eyeglasses or sunglasses while interacting with clients or coworkers, even while they are complying with social distancing requirements.
Security preparedness for invisible risks is an essential aspect of running a PI firm in the COVID-19 era. The end of this pandemic may be a year or more away — in other words, beyond the visible horizon. While governments and public health professionals do their work to save lives and slow transmission, it’s our work as investigators and entrepreneurs to protect our colleagues and clients as we resume business operations.
It’s vital that we do so prudently, with scientific guidance and proven protective measures designed to reduce everyone’s risk of contracting or transmitting this novel coronavirus. In the end, it’s all part of the path forward to a new normal.
About the author:
Robert F. Granzow CPP, is a public sector security administrator. His professional background encompasses senior roles in security administration, corporate security management, academia, and law enforcement. Mr. Granzow holds a graduate certificate in forensic medicine from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and a master’s degree in criminal justice from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Mr. Granzow is a former licensed private investigator and served honorably with the Pennsylvania National Guard and in the United States Naval Reserves.