Risk Control Considerations for Public Entities During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic
Public sector bodies face unique challenges as they serve their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some departments operate with additional protocols in place, some operations or facilities may have been suspended or closed. As public sector bodies resume operations or services, they should follow the guidance provided by state officials and government agencies, as the reopening process and timeline may be different for each community.
Cleaning & Disinfecting of Public Facilities
Prior to reopening buildings complete the normal routine cleaning and disinfecting procedures. If operations have continued under a limited basis, consider additional cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Review and update policies for cleaning, maintenance and operations with building and maintenance staff and/or third-party contractors who may be hired for this type of work.
Parks & Recreation
Public sector bodies are contemplating recreational sports programs, reopening parks, playgrounds, tennis courts, skateparks, pools and beaches, and hosting community events such as festivals and parades. Local government guidance should be followed when determining how and when to proceed with these activities.
Advance planning and communication are critically important when managing special events exposures, even in the absence of unusual circumstances. Inspect structures and streets, consider life safety issues, and plan traffic, parking and security to address hazards and help ensure public safety.
In addition to cleaning and disinfecting considerations, remember that routine park and playground maintenance activities should be completed to prepare for reopening following several months of limited (or no) maintenance.
If recreation departments proceed with summer camps, be sure to comply with all local public health guidance. Ensure that safeguarding policies are in place and that best practices are being followed to protect young persons.
Special considerations are needed for public works employees where social- distancing measures could prove challenging. Develop policies and procedures to address protocols including the use of personal protective equipment when entering residential or commercial properties in response to emergencies, or during maintenance or construction activities in the community. In addition, review and update procedures for cleaning and disinfecting public works facilities according to recommendations provided by local government guidelines.
COVID-19 may have an indirect impact on sewer systems, due to disinfecting wipes and paper towels being flushed down toilets. Some local authorities may find they need or want to increase monitoring of lines for potential clogging or blockage. It is essential to follow monitoring and maintenance procedures during and following the pandemic to help prevent backups.
School closures and the implementation of distance learning have impacted many communities. Education authorities should follow local government guidelines to determine the right time and how to manage risks when returning students and staff to school following extended closure.
Buildings may sit idle for several months, and it is important to consider the inspection and maintenance activities that should take place prior to reoccupying a building, which include electrical system inspection and testing of building alarms and sprinkler systems.
Public libraries may have closed or adjusted services during the pandemic. Government guidance should be followed when contemplating reopening or phasing in additional library services.
Services such as online ordering and exterior book drops may help limit staff interaction with the public. Paper materials and books may be difficult to clean without compromising or damaging the material; therefore, libraries should also determine if recently checked-out materials should be quarantined for a period of time prior to loaning to another individual. Consider offering digital materials, such as e-books, and other services like story time and book club online, if possible.
Prior to reopening the building to patrons, libraries should determine how social distancing can be maintained. This could include limiting the number of individuals and staff in the building, asking the public to come in by appointment and/or rearranging furniture. Also consider how seating areas and computer workstations will be cleaned and disinfected between use.
COVID-19 has resulted in reduced passenger numbers and has impacted staffing for public sector bodies and transit authorities. Public transport providers continue to implement a variety of procedures to help protect operators and passengers amid service reductions. This may include limiting seating to maintain social distancing, providing hand sanitiser on buses, installing physical barriers or blocking seats behind operators, removing paper schedules, increasing cleaning and disinfecting efforts, offering alternative boarding or restricting numbers when transporting vulnerable persons.
COVID-19 has impacted staffing for many public sector bodies. As employers move to bring employees back to work or hire new employees, it is important to consider and adhere to employment practices that help maintain a professional work environment for employees and minimise exposure to claims.
Current hiring, sick-leave and work-from-home policies should be reviewed and updated to provide information specific to your response to COVID-19 and any future pandemic conditions. It will be important to establish equality act compliant procedures for prospective and existing employees who have tested positive or who are known to have been recently exposed, employees displaying signs of illness — especially symptoms common to COVID-19 infection—and for managing employee medical surveillance, such as measuring temperatures and medical exams, if deemed necessary.
There have been numerous challenges for public sector bodies due to COVID-19. However, it is important to ensure that employee training on department and safety policies/procedures does not lag during the pandemic. Training should include all department-specific protocols that have been put in place to protect staff and the public.
Contractual Risk Transfer (CRT)
Vendors and contractors that local authorities typically use to perform work or provide services in their community may have lowered their limits or changed coverages in the wake of COVID-19. Public sector bodies should obtain certificates of insurance and ensure that CRT best practices are followed prior to contracting with a third party.
Public sector bodies may find that they have an increased need for volunteers during and immediately following the pandemic. Local authorities should consider how they enlist volunteers to help, and how best to manage this group of people. Special consideration should be given to volunteer roles that potentially place individuals in close contact with the public.
Crisis Management Planning
Public sector bodies should implement a Crisis Management Plan to define roles and responsibilities during and immediately following a crisis. If a plan is already in place, it should be reviewed and revised using “lessons learned” to provide continued safety for employees and the public, reduce potential for loss of public services, and facilitate the restoration of operations following the current pandemic or an unforeseen future crisis.