Canadian Underwriter

Commercial clients want your advice on how to re-open safely. What do you tell them?

July 8, 2020   by David Gambrill

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As provincial governments across Canada begin to fire up their local economies in staged phases, Canadian businesses are asking their brokerages for advice on how to re-open safely.

Aon Canada is already engaged in these sorts of their discussions with their clients. Three company representatives recently talked to Canadian Underwriter about the questions that clients are likely to raise with their brokers.

First and foremost, re-opening business while COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is ongoing in Canada will elevate the risk for companies wishing to re-open their offices. Brokerages consulted by their clients will likely have to look at two fundamental things, Aon representatives told Canadian Underwriter.

“When employees come back to work, they are going to ask their employers, ‘Is it safe when I come back to the workplace?’” says Robin Daddar, senior risk control consultant for Aon. “Conversely, employers are going to have to say, ‘Yes, it’s safe, and these are the things that we’ve done as a company to make it safe.’

“So those two fundamental questions are going to be asked. Are both parties going to be satisfied with the answers, and that the procedures the employers established are correct?”

Walid Khayate, senior risk consultant at Aon Canada, says most businesses will not want to run the risk of a lawsuit if they cannot prove their workplaces are safe. He notes that in some places in Canada, the business may have a legal onus to provide a safe workplace.

And unless that safety in the office workplace can be ensured, says Louis Gardiner, national practice leader for Aon Global Risk Consulting, employers will want to make sure they keep in mind the health and safety of their employees who remain working from home.

“Even if the federal government and provinces allow 50 people in one location at the same time, that helps to guide, but that doesn’t negate the fact that your workplace still has to be safe,” Gardiner says. “You still have to make sure you are doing all the right things and can demonstrate that you have sufficient cleaning protocols, you have distancing, and that you can keep people safe.

“Many office buildings went to open-office environment and a tighter use of space, and so they cannot adhere to two-metre physical distancing. This is a challenge many organizations have. And this is why continuing safety of people working home is something that people will have to think about. The ergonomics of workspaces for remote workers, and making sure that they have a proper workspace design, will be very, very important.”

As far as workplace safety in the office is concerned, Khayate outlined three main aspects that Canadian brokerages must keep in mind when advising their commercial clients.

“The first one is to advise [clients] to look at the legal and regulatory aspect of local health and safety,” Khayate said. “We need to make sure they follow the government and provincial health guidelines.”

Aon is sending out information fact sheets that refer clients to regulations and guidelines established by local public health authorities in their provincial jurisdictions. It is recommended that brokerages simply refer clients to the existing regulations and let the clients interpret the regulations for themselves.

The second aspect to ensuring office workplace safety is to listen to the employees, Khayate said. “It is really important for the employer to open a communication channel with employees to be able to share their feedback on the situation; the way that [employees] are living; the COVID-19 situation; and the working-from-home situation. If the employer is committed to change, it’s important for the employees to be able to share their comments.”

It’s also important for the business to think about the health and safety of people visiting the premises, especially where the company has regular interaction with the public, says Gardiner.

“Companies working through their return-to-work strategies obviously know you have to consider the public’s safety in addition to how you run and adjust your operations,” she says. “So, one of the things we recommend is that clients take a prioritized view of their business process that are affected by Covid, ensuring that they are making those changes to their business processes. In addition to safety emergency response and business continuity planning, you also have to think about your customer.”

Daddar says Aon is issuing preventative checklists to clients, showing what to watch for during an era of ongoing physical distancing.

“One of the things we recommend to clients is, ‘Do an assessment of your workplace,’” he says. “See where the points of contact are with your own employees, with each other, and with your visitors, contractors coming in, customers, etc. Work with your health and safety committees and your workers. Look for ways of minimizing and reducing contact. You know your own workplace. You know where your customers come from. You know which employees work together. Look for ways of separating them.”

Finally, there is the insurance aspect, Khayate said. “Once we have employee safety looked after, how do we ensure that we have the proper insurance product to respond to this type of situation?”

For example, if a company has re-fitted its offices, is there an opportunity to modify or amend its insurance policy to reflect the new workplace environment? “Let’s say [the clients] have put in the best safety protections and controls, but we still have a COVID-19 situation there and an employee gets sick. Does the client have the proper insurance to respond to this aspect?” Khayate says.

A brokerage could negotiate with a carrier about how insurance may respond. While pandemic is generally not covered in business interruption policies, the policy wording is key. Liability is another aspect of coverage that an insurance policy might address, as Gardiner observes.

“Even if you have an industrial building where there is minimal public interaction, you still have to think about keeping the public safe as well,” she says. “That’s where the insurance comes into play, because that’s where [re-opening during the pandemic] could create liability for third parties, the public. The jury is out on exactly how the insurance industry will respond to any Covid-related risk. That will all unfold in time.”


Feature image courtesy of iStock/VisualCommunications

Other images courtesy of iStock/FG Trade and iStock/andresr

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