Communicating Cautious Behavior

The Key to Crisis Management Is Identifying the Things You Can Control and Managing Them Thoroughly.

With many states relaxing their strict quarantine rules, more operations that were closed will be opening over the course of the next few months.

It takes doctors and nurses to treat and cure people with the disease but preventing workplace exposure is partially a communication function. Those of us with communication and crisis management responsibility need to be reading articles about how the virus is spread so we can help create a work environment where people can communicate with minimal risk.

One point experts are making now is that exposure to the virus doesn’t necessarily transmit the virus. It takes an accumulation of viral particles to result in an infection. The formula that predicts spread, then, is the amount of the exposure plus time. Inhaling small amounts of viral particles over a long period of time could be equal to inhaling a large quantity of viral particles all at once.

In other words, just being exposed isn’t enough to get someone sick. A kind of critical mass of virus particles needs to be reached. Deeper and faster breathing or close proximity require less time for an infectious level of exposure.

Transmission from an infected person breathing normally to someone also breathing normally at a different desk in the same office could take an hour or more. Two people sitting face to face and talking in a meeting might exchange disease-spreading particles in as few as 15 minutes. And workers lifting bags of sand in a warehouse could spread the disease to one another in a few seconds.

So, different jobs require different measures of caution.

Each operation will have to decide what is practical for them. When considering a plan, it is important to keep in mind that we are responsibly minimizing spread because it seems apparent now that stopping the spread is impossible.

Here are a few rules to consider.

  • Limit one-on-one meetings to 15 minutes. Talking spreads 10 times more viral particles than breathing.
  • The limit for group meetings could be one half hour if people are at a large table and not speaking face to face.
  • Don’t ask employees to travel together in trucks and cars.
  • Workers engaged in physical activity ideally should be isolated because heavy breathing causes the discharge of exponentially more particles. This may mean eliminating two-man lifting by making lighter bags of sand and cement.
  • Consider how the pandemic is impacting customers. Lighter packaging may serve their needs as well as yours.
  • Obviously coughing and sneezing are opportunities for instant contamination. An infected person’s cough releases 20,000 times the amount of virus particles needed for an infectious dose at 50 miles an hour. A sneeze may release 200,000 times the infectious dose at over 100 miles an hour. Companies need to require anyone with these symptoms to stay home.
  • Office worker meetings should be dismissed immediately if anyone coughs or sneezes.
  • The virus doesn’t spread as easily from contact with objects, but bathrooms are a main location for transmission because so many things are touched and because flushing and blow-drying hands aerosolizes droplets. Educating coworkers about this, along with possibly increasing ventilation, putting out hand towels and turning off blow dryers could make a big difference.
  • Schedule office workers for half days in the office and half at home. Employees will be continually exposed to virus particles in the air, cutting the time at work in half isn’t about minimizing the risk of contacting the virus, it is shortening the amount of time the virus has to accumulate in people’s systems.
  • If possible, move communication outdoors. Reports are saying that it is almost impossible to transmit the virus while having a normal conversation in the open air.

I have been writing crisis plans and managing crisis situations for a long time, and I understand it is the nature of a crisis that things will happen that we have no control over. The key to crisis management is identifying the things you can control and managing them thoroughly.

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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