What is the problem with infectious diseases?
Since the industrial revolution, dangers for workers have drastically reduced. Initially, workers could be injured by dangerous machines (having no shields), high temperatures, chemicals etc. Obviously, there were various reasons to improve this situation: moral responsibility of the employer, continuity of the work force and legal constraints. Gradually, legislation was put in place to force factories to take measures to prevent accidents.
Until the COVID-19 crisis, contracting an infectious disease is not considered a factory accident. Prevention was therefore not part of the moral or legal framework. This can be understood, as because infectious disease did not impose a real threat to the workforce. There were severe diseases (such as Ebola), but it was unlikely that these would reach the factory floor. Other infectious diseases (such as flu) are relatively harmless.
With COVID-19, we need to change our mind. Although such bio-hazards may have been overlooked by legislators and large parts of industry, we now know that such diseases impose a serious risk to the workforce. Employers can now be held accountable and are therefore obliged to take action.
Unprepared as they were, some factories had no other option than to close down their operations. There were several reasons:
- Shortage of personnel due to illness of employees
- Stopped or trimmed operations due to unsafe working conditions
- Shortage of supplies due to:
- Breakdown of logistic channels
- Suppliers unable to deliver due to close-down of their operations
In April 2020, volume of German industrial production was down 25% with respect to one year earlier. In France this was 41%. Many companies got into existential problems. Luckily, governments were helping with massive financial support programs.
As a result, there is a business obligation to deal with risks of infectious diseases.
There is a moral, legal and business obligation for industry to deal with the risks of infectious diseases.