COVID-19: European firms take measures to protect employees

17:08 PM | March 10, 2020 | Ian Young

Leading Europe-based companies are taking measures to protect their employees from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In Italy, the worst-affected European country, the government on Monday extended its emergency COVID-19 measures, which include travel restrictions and a ban on public gatherings, from northern Italy to include the entire country. Versalis, Italy's biggest producer of chemicals, has sites in the north and south of the country. It says that "since the emergency outbreak, the company has promptly put in place all necessary measures to protect its personnel's health." A Versalis spokesperson tells CW that "the progress of the epidemic is being monitored in order to continue to guarantee maximum health-and-safety protection of all employees."

Versalis says it has nevertheless maintained regular operations at its production plants and logistics network.

BASF, meanwhile, has advised its staff not to attend major company events that involve international travel, if possible. It has also prohibited business trips to "high-risk areas." These include Hubei Province, China; Qom Province and Tehran, Iran; South Tyrol in the region of Trentino-South Tyrol, Italy; the regions of Emilia Romagna and Lombardy, Italy; the city of Vo in the Veneto region, Italy; and Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, South Korea. If BASF employees return to their home country from business or personal travel to these areas, they must stay at home for 14 days, the company says.

"Given the current situation, we further support mobile working among our employees wherever possible," a BASF spokesperson tells CW. "For example, we have provided the option of remote working arrangements where appropriate at our sites and offices in Greater China and other locations in APAC as necessary."

BASF has declined to comment on plant operations. "We are closely monitoring the situation and continuously evaluating the likely consequences for our business depending on the severity, spread, and duration of the outbreak," the spokesperson says.

Evonik Industries says it has temporarily suspended business trips to regions in which the virus is widespread. "We also recommend postponing trips to other regions that are not urgent," an Evonik spokesperson tells CW. "Various events and meetings have already been postponed." Evonik says it is continuously updating information for staff about the virus and that "generally speaking, Evonik has pandemic plans in place."

Evonik, meanwhile, says it faces "short-term challenges" with logistics and supply chains. However, production has not been significantly reduced, it says. The company has declined to comment on operating rates at individual plants.

Solvay says that it too has restricted travel to "high-risk areas" such as China, Italy, and South Korea. "We are following the recommended guidelines from the World Health Organization and national health authorities around the world to best protect the health of our employees and the local communities," a Solvay spokesperson tells CW. "This includes asking employees who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 to work from home during a 14-day incubation period as a precautionary measure."

Solvay says that its plants are still operating at "regular capacity" and that it has not halted any construction projects due to COVID-19. The company said in February that it expected a €25-million ($28 million) negative impact on its first-quarter results from disruptions related to COVID-19 and would update its 2020 earnings forecast as the situation becomes clearer.