The Importance of a Business Continuity Plan in Environmental Contract Testing Labs
In uncertain times, having a strong business continuity plan can make a big difference when it comes to responding to unplanned, and uninvited disruptions to everyday business operation. The benefits of robust preparation can be both immediate and long term. While business continuity planning is an important way to plan for, manage, and mitigate risks across a wide variety of industries, it is of particular importance to the essential everyday activity of environmental contract testing laboratories.
Goals of a business continuity plan
The most important goals of business continuity plan are threefold: ensuring the health and safety of employees, protecting company assets, and minimizing the short- and long-term impacts of an interruption to daily operations. It goes without saying that the health and safety of employees should be at the forefront of any business disaster response plan. To maintain laboratory operations in compliance with regulations, an emergency plan is critical.
It is in a lab’s best interest to protect its business and financial interests and maintain compliant operations. In the high-volume practice of an environmental testing lab, a small disruption in daily activities can create a ripple effect with lasting impact. Any interruption to the functional status of an environmental lab also poses a downstream risk to the operations of their clients, which can make a strong business continuity plan a benefit to potential customers. It can strengthen the relationship a lab has with their customers, while also protecting the organization’s financial interest.
Building a strong business continuity plan
At the foundation of a strong business continuity plan is the support and management of a business continuity team. This group is responsible for overseeing a number of aspects of the plan, from development to implementation and eventual return to daily business activities. Often included on this team are laboratory managers and quality directors, as well as IT and operations management professionals.
An environmental contract testing lab is an essential organization that will require a high degree of planning as far as operational complexities are concerned. Part of developing a business continuity plan involves investigating and evaluating current lab practices and processes at a granular level, to determine their level of necessity or obsolescence. Specific examples could include the procedure for backing up and restoring a laboratory information management system (LIMS), assessment of which analytical activities are most critical, and the measures a lab presently takes to protect the integrity of specimens. A critical activity is loosely defined as one that is particularly impactful to the everyday conduct of business, and that would pose a significant threat to the well-being of the lab if discontinued.
Assessment of resources is also an important aspect of this task, including the number of staff required for a particular activity, what consumables (e.g., PPE or lab supplies) and equipment may be required, and whether accommodations could be made to allow an activity to be safely completed under alternative conditions. As the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has taught us, in times of upheaval, it may be necessary to find new ways to accomplish necessary duties.
Developing and refining a strong business continuity plan is a must for environmental contract testing labs, as they constitute an essential business. An unintended benefit of the contingency planning process is having the opportunity to re-evaluate everyday business practice through a different lens, which can help a lab identify working inefficiencies and process gaps. This offers the chance for immediate remediation and implementation of more efficient business practices going forward, in addition to safeguarding the vital activities of environmental laboratories and their clients.