Tips and advice for keeping staff safe, ensuring business continuity and securing the bottom line.
As the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) confirms that extreme temperatures are set to become the norm, the evidence of this played out in the record-breaking temperatures seen in Southern Europe and North America. Several countries were battling wildfire disasters because of extreme hot weather over the summer months. Airlines, hotels and tour operators were suddenly in the midst of major repatriation operations during the peak summer holiday season.
This comes at the same time as scientists warn that countries, such as China, are facing an increase in natural disasters due to climate change. It therefore makes business sense for decision-makers to think about how climate change will potentially affect staff safety, business continuity and the bottom line. This becomes a bigger consideration if your staff are working remotely abroad or are regularly engaged in business travel across the globe.
Protect your staff
When it comes to your business, your staff is your greatest asset. Business continuity is reliant on your team’s performance and therefore their wellbeing is a priority. It is sound business practice to develop an HR policy and guidelines that incorporate emergency events.
As wildfires increase in frequency and severity due to rising temperatures, associated medical and travel disruption should be considered. The fatal August wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, demonstrated the significant effects wildfires can have on local infrastructure and travel plans.
- Take note of pollution levels across wildfire affected areas and beyond, as deteriorating air quality can cause medical issues, particularly for personnel with pre-existing respiratory conditions. Ensure appropriate medical risk mitigation measures are in place, such as access to high-quality respirator masks.
- Remain abreast of developments via official national and local sources. Ensure travel plans account for weather-related disruption, particularly during riskier travel periods, such as during the annual Atlantic Hurricane Season that runs between June and November.
- Plan business operations with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) compliance in mind. Climate-related risks can also be reputational if companies are viewed as being non-compliant, especially as severe natural disasters occur with greater regularity.
- In extreme heat situations, be mindful of vulnerable groups such as expectant mothers and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Ensure adequate protections are in place.
Assess your locations
Make sure that your office locations at home and abroad undergo routine risk assessments. If your office is in a location that sees wildfires annually or is located on a flood plain, or at potential risk of landslides, make sure you devise plans to mitigate this.
- Abide by all official directives and heed evacuation instructions to minimise harmful exposure to climate-related risks. Ensure actionable location-specific evacuation plans are in place according to organisational risk tolerance, which could include the temporary scaling down of on-site work and relocating both staff and assets, if necessary.
- Given the increasing volatility of weather patterns and the widening range of weather-related risks emanating from climate change, vulnerability assessments should be conducted regularly. The increasingly common wildfires in Europe are emblematic of climate risks occurring with more severity and impacting new areas.
- Ensure offices are sufficiently equipped to handle natural disaster risks. In areas likely to be affected by natural disasters, consider the need for items such as electrical generators in offices and grab bags at personal accommodation in case of the need to rapidly relocate.
- Adopt viable business continuity plans for the potential impact of natural disasters. Damage or loss of equipment, infrastructure or even personnel can be mitigated through actionable business resilience risk management.
- Prepare adaptable journey management plans and check the status of routes prior to departure amid risks of weather-related disruption – heavy rainfall and storms are liable to cause flash flooding and landslides that can cause significant delays.
Communicate your procedures
Ensure that all your staff are aware of the safety and emergency procedures you have outlined in your plans. Communicate your ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ to all staff and make sure that those travelling abroad have access to emergency helpline numbers and a clear step-by-step procedure.
Companies are increasingly working within a hybrid workplace model and therefore remote workers need clear guidelines in case of emergencies too as they are off-site. Make clear who they need to report to and how they do this reporting.
Ensure communication plans are established with all staff, including contingency measures in case primary communication channels are affected by climate risks.
Consider altering work schedules for employees who plan to spend significant amounts of time working outside during hot weather. Where permissible and safe to do so, carry out work during dawn and dusk periods, and minimise time spent outdoors during the hottest time of day (usually 12h00 – 16h00). Those conducting strenuous activity outdoors are at the greatest risk of heat disorders.
Allow staff to wear appropriate clothing and advise the use of sun protection for their tasks to minimise sun and heat exposure during hot temperatures.
Make sure that all staff have access to the correct technology, software and hardware to work from home effectively if the office is inaccessible.
David Grant is a Senior Regional Security Coordinator (Europe & CIS) at Healix. His experience includes conducting risk intelligence and social media monitoring and prior to Healix worked at the European Commission. He has an undergraduate degree in International History and Politics and a master's degree in Defence, Development and Diplomacy.