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As global concern over the Coronavirus grows, landscaping companies should prepare for how to handle a possible outbreak in their area and urge employees who are sick to stay home.
On March 20, Syngenta released the following statement: "As we adapt to the unprecedented challenges posed by the quickly evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, we want to assure you that Syngenta continues to take steps to ensure we are operating safely. Syngenta’s priority is the health and safety of our employees, families, customers and partners. We continue to assess the situation daily and take actions in an abundance of caution to maintain business continuity while focusing on the safety and health of our customers and employees." The full statement can be viewed here.
The National Association of Landscape Professionals has canceled the National Collegiate Landscape Competition as a result of the travel and health concerns. You can read more about that cancellation here.
Meanwhile, the Irrigation Association released a statement that says "understands and supports the aggressive preventive measures being taken across the globe as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic." A majority of its staff in Fairfax, Virginia, has moved to remote work as a result. You can read more from the association’s website here.
NALP has also established guidelines to assist business owners. These tips include complying with all federal, state and local advisories; actively urging employees who are sick to stay home; and thoroughly disinfecting personal protective equipment.
While the Centers of Disease Control assessed that for most people the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus is low, businesses should start preparing for more employee absences.
The NALP suggests cross-training personnel in the event that a key member of the team is absent for an extended period of time. It’s also important to note that the Coronavirus is a reportable illness with OSHA.
It’s also recommended that companies begin reviewing policies and procedures, along with preparing to alter business practices if needed.
According to the CDC, Oregon has 75 reported cases, while neighboring state Washington has reported 1,012 cases and 52 deaths.
For Ben Bowen, head landscape designer with Ross NW Watergardens in Portland, his company has already begun putting preventative measures in place.
“Right now, it’s still business as usual for us. We had a discussion with all of our teammates,” Bowen said. “We made sure everyone understood the symptoms, and we told them we expect them to stay home if they have any of them.”
Bowen added that at Ross NW Watergardens, employees have a pool of paid time off that they can utilize for sick, personal and vacation days.
“Usually, our employees will come to work if they have a minor cold,” he said. “However, we made sure they know to stay home, and if they have to take off for this it won’t impact their normal pool of paid time off.”
Bowen noted some companies may not be able to offer the same courtesy to their employees.
“For states that don’t have mandated paid time off, there could be a problem,” he said. “There can be a little hostility toward those who are perceived to be spreading the virus.”
According to Bowen, Ross NW Watergardens has already begun to be negatively impacted by the growing panic over the Coronavirus.
“I just got an email from a client who was very motivated to do a backyard project with us,” he explained. “He loved all the ideas but told me with things being so uncertain he could not invest the money into the project at this time. In the design/build industry we’re seeing people worried about the economy.”
Bowen said he expects the maintenance and manufacturing sectors of the industry to be affected as well, especially in areas that quarantine.
“If we were to see something like what is going on in Italy, then crews could be idle for weeks,” he said. “Manufacturing disruptions could increase wait time for parts and equipment.”
While everyone is being cautious, Bowen said that employees are staying calm in the meantime.
“The tone is really that we’re not worried for ourselves but realize there are people in the community who are especially vulnerable. We want to protect those people by being,” he said.
Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, also in Portland, said that while the health risks are undeniable, he is more concerned about the economic impact.S
“My biggest concern over the Coronavirus is the potential impact on the economy,” he said. “We are hearing of all the things being cancelled or postponed. The impact that the Coronoavirus has on the travel, hotel and convention industries will have ripple effects into the overall economy.”
Grover added that beginning late last week, Pacific Landscape Management began researching and formulating a plan.
“We want people to practice good hygiene,” he said. “That means washing your hands when you get to work, when you go home and throughout the day. Also, coughing or sneezing into your elbow. We told employees don’t come to work if you feel sick. If you do come sick, and we feel that you’re coughing, or feverish, we will send you home.”
Grover said he believes that in states without mandated sick leave employees will show up to work even if they have some of the symptoms.
“The good thing about Oregon is we’re a very progressive state and it’s required that all employees have sick leave,” he said. “So, it’s not as big of an issue here in Oregon as it might be in other states.”
At Pacific Landscape Management some employees have scheduled travel plans that may be cancelled and others may choose to cancel trips in highly affected areas.
“We told employees that they have the choice to self-select out and not go if they are not comfortable,” he said. “We want everybody to take their personal health into their own hands. We want to encourage people to do that and not feel like there will be any retributions.”
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