Major health event preparation for small business
Major health events, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, can severely impact the global economy and all businesses. However, an epidemic impacting 1 region or country, or a localised health outbreak can also have a significant effect on businesses.
Health events can include:
- pandemics (e.g. coronavirus (COVID-19), human influenza)
- epidemics (e.g. mosquito borne diseases such as dengue virus, malaria)
- localised outbreaks (e.g. Legionnaires' disease, diseases from animal contact)
- food poisoning or contamination (e.g. Campylobacter, Salmonella)
- medical event (e.g. serious injury, death).
To prepare and get back to business sooner after a major health event, use these 4 stages:
Top 10 tips to manage a major health event
Make a plan
Create a business continuity plan to identify your risks and plan what you will do
Review cleaning, ordering, booking and cancellation policies
Ensure staff know and understand any new hygiene or safety protocols
Follow public health directions
Follow public health directions relevant to your business
Assess business operations
Plan for alternative ways to run your business (e.g. remotely from home, online)
Wellbeing and mental health
Look after your own, your family and your staff's mental health and wellbeing
Apply for financial assistance and other business support
Plan for financial recovery
Record lessons learned and update policies, plans and staff training
Communicate the steps you've taken to protect staff and customers
Promote your business
Develop marketing strategies to promote positive news or deals
Prevent and prepare for a major health event
Make a plan
You are responsible for the health and wellbeing of staff, customers, clients, volunteers and visitors on your premises and need to plan to ensure their safety. Developing a business continuity plan can help you prevent risks, prepare for potential impacts, respond to and recover from a major health event.
Complete a business continuity plan (includes a risk management, incident response and recovery plan), and a health management plan for specific health events (e.g. COVID-19 pandemic) to help you prepare, respond and recover from a health event.
Steps to include in your plan:
- identify potential health risks (including pandemics) and their likely impact on your business:
- learn about work health and safety laws, regulations and codes of practice
- find out your work health and safety obligations as a business (including your legal obligations)
- check and document what you need to do to run your business safely to manage different types of health events
- identify staff roles and responsibilities and share team contact details
- record customer, supplier, insurer and emergency contact details
- plan how to respond to key risks and incidents:
- identify core services and what you need to do to maintain your supply chain
- plan for flexible staffing arrangements (working from home, online meetings, reorganising work schedules and cross-skilling)
- back up data and save to either external or cloud storage
- consider financial factors, like cash flow and insurance if you have a loss of income
- review ordering, booking and cancellation policies –consider goodwill measures
- plan how to recover from an incident:
- develop a digital strategy (website, social media and advertising)
- conduct training with staff and update your plan.
Prepare a communication plan to cover what is happening, how your business is responding, where customers/suppliers can find out more information and what they need to do.
Contact key industry associations for communication kits and advice.
Plan for specific health events
Use these steps to manage a current or potential health event.
- Check current COVID-19 information.
- To prevent or reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases in your premises or property:
- If you handle or sell food, you must comply with food and beverage industry regulations.
- Read Queensland Health's:
- Visit Safe Food Queensland for mandatory food safety accreditation, advice and notification requirements.
For more information, read the emergency event information.
Respond during a major health event
For the latest information and advice on public health warnings and directions, read Queensland Health alerts.
- Contagious diseases – if a staff member, customer, client, volunteer or visitor contracts a contagious disease and has potentially exposed others at your workplace, notify your local public health unit or phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
- Contaminated food products – if you suspect a food product has been intentionally contaminated, report it to 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
- Food poisoning – if a food poisoning incident occurs:
- advise the customer (or other person) to see a doctor
- record the customers contact and complaint details, and report using the customer complaint log (scroll down to 'Records' to find the form)
- remove any suspect food from sale (or consumption), label it 'suspected unsafe food' and refrigerate it for testing
- report it to your local public health unit or phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
- phone the Poisons Information Centre for advice on 13 11 26 – available 24 hours, 7 days a week
- learn more about food safety complaints from Queensland Health
- use the event log template to record decisions and actions
- see suggested messaging for food poisoning or contamination incidents.
- Serious injury or illness, death or a dangerous event (including serious or dangerous electrical events)
Learn more about responding to negative social media or media coverage relating to an incident.
- Monitor and follow Queensland Health alerts and learn about business and COVID-19.
- Implement recommended hygiene and safety measures (e.g. COVID-19 health and safety resources).
- Activate your business continuity plan or specific health management plan.
- Keep staff, customers, clients, volunteers and visitors safe.
- Learn about work health and safety laws, regulations and codes of practice.
- Know your work health and safety obligations as a business.
- Communicate regularly with staff, customers and suppliers:
- keep customers up to date
- let customers know if your business is open/closed
- contact suppliers regarding stock and operations
- continue to update your website and social media about business operations.
Recover during and after a major health event
It can take months or years for some businesses to recover from a health event (e.g. COVID-19). Find out how to get back to business quicker.
Early recovery (weeks and months following event)
- Activate your specific health management plan as part of your business continuity plan.
- Consider alternative ways to run your business by working remotely from home, moving online, finding a new market or customers, or selling different products or services.
- Assess your finances, including how long you can operate with reduced or no revenue.
- Contact your bank, creditors and debtors to discuss options – use our suggested messages.
- Contact the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to learn about their natural disaster support, how to fast-track your refund, delay lodgement obligations or more time to pay debts.
- Learn more about managing cash flow and debtors.
- Speak to a free financial counsellor on the Small Business Debt Helpline on 1800 413 828 or rural financial counsellor on 1300 771 741.
- Communicate with customers and suppliers about steps taken to protect them and any changes to your business operations.
- Provide positive news on your website and social media about your business.
- Keep in contact with other business owners.
- Monitor relevant government agency websites (e.g. Queensland Health's Chief Health Officer public health directions) for the latest information.
Long-term recovery (months and years following event)
- Look after yourself, your staff and your family's wellbeing and mental health. Consider staff morale and how to boost it.
- Share health alerts and information with staff (e.g. vaccination information).
- Stay connected to your local community, industry and neighbouring businesses.
- Consider your business's viability long term, including costs and benefits of continuing to operate.
- Develop relationships with more than 1 supplier to maintain supplies and deliveries, etc.
- Work with your accountant, lawyer or adviser on a financial recovery plan, including credit and repayment plans.
- Access small business support services to get back on track, including the Mentoring for Growth program.
- Watch financial resilience webinars for small businesses from TAFE Queensland:
- managing cash flow
- business planning/strategies
- panel mentoring sessions
- repositioning your business.
- Keep customers, suppliers and stakeholders updated about your business operations.
- Answer emails promptly, thank people for their support and log customer phone calls.
- Develop a recovery marketing and promotion plan.
- Celebrate and let people know about recovery steps, milestones, or successes.
A health event requires a coordinated response from governments, businesses and other organisations. Consider who you need to communicate with during and after a health event. Key stakeholders may include:
- regulatory body or agency
- customers, clients, or guests
- suppliers and distributors
- bank and insurer
- industry body.
Aim to keep stakeholders informed about:
- what is happening
- how your business is responding
- where they can find out more
- what they need to do and when.
It's recommended you talk to staff face to face and phone or email key customers, clients or suppliers who may be directly impacted.
To communicate to stakeholders:
- use social media channels and your website to get the message out widely
- use innovative ways such as videos, photos and promotions to advise when your business is back up and running.
You can adapt the messages below to suit your stakeholders.
Key messages and communication tips for health events
- The safety, health and wellbeing of our staff and customers is our first priority.
- In response to (add health event) we are following all directives issued by the Chief Health Officer and doing everything possible to ensure the safety of all staff and customers at our premises.
- We are continuing to monitor our policies in this changing environment and do our part to prevent the spread of (add health event).
- In line with guidance provided by Queensland Health we have updated our cleaning and hygiene measures in line with recommended guidelines. These include (list measures).
- To find out more about (add health event) visit (list appropriate websites and/or organisations).
- Thank you for your patience. We are receiving a high volume of phone calls and queries and will respond to your inquiry as soon as we can. In the meantime, please visit our website (or social media page) for more information.
- The safety, health and wellbeing of our staff and customers is our first priority.
- We are working closely with authorities to identify the source of the outbreak and providing every assistance to help them with contact tracing of customers who may be affected.
- We have followed all directives issued by Queensland Health to protect our staff and customers and will continue to do so.
- On advice from Queensland Health we will be temporarily closing our business and completing a deep clean of all surfaces and areas on the premises.
- We are working closely with authorities to investigate this incident to determine the exact source and cause.
- The safety and security of our (staff, customers or guests) is our first priority.
- Our practices and standards are in line with the strictest health and safety regulations.
- We will continue making every effort to abide by these standards and will update our food handling processes if they are found to be responsible for the incident, to prevent this from happening again.
- If anyone who has eaten (provide specific details of food source and timings) and is experiencing symptoms of (list symptoms), we advise you seek medical assistance.
- We sincerely apologise for any distress this incident has caused and our thoughts are with those who have been affected.
For more information, read emergency workplace accident or death messaging.
Contact your bank
- Ask your bank about financial hardship options, for example:
- changing loan terms
- temporarily pausing or reducing repayments
- deferring repayments and interest payments (all missed payments and interest will need to be repaid)
- waiving fees and charges
- consolidating your debt
- finance to help cover cash flow shortages
- deferring upcoming credit card payments
- increasing emergency credit card limits
- waiving early termination fees to access term deposits.
- Provide loan details (account name and number, payment amounts) and an overview of your financial situation.
- Request a hardship variation by using the sample letter generator from the Financial Rights Legal Centre to send to your bank.
- Your bank must advise you within 21 days about your hardship request. If you can't negotiate a variation, you can:
Contact utility providers
- Contact your utility providers' hardship team about electricity, gas, phone or water bill payment options.
- Pandemic claims – most insurance policies do not cover businesses for a pandemic, but find out if you can make a claim under your business interruption or income protection insurance.
- Insurers must inform you of their decision within 10 business days of receiving your claim.
- Insurers must fast track your claim if you can demonstrate 'financial need' (read Item 64 of the General Insurance Code of Practice) – if the insurer accepts your claim, an advance payment must be made within 5 days.
- Contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority on 1800 931 678 if you can't reach an agreement with your insurer.
- Phone Legal Aid Queensland on 1300 651 188 if you need information and advice on how to get your insurance claim paid.
Go back to Small business disaster hub for other industries and disasters.
- Last reviewed: 14 Jul 2023
- Last updated: 24 Aug 2023