Coronavirus Workplace Safety Planning Part 1: Preparing a Safe Work Environment
Let’s be honest. Though it’s really only been a few months since our nation was brought to a standstill by COVID-19, it might seem like a heck of a lot longer. And why not? Our routines have been disrupted like never before. We’ve had to make changes we just weren’t always ready to make. And as we coped as best we could, there were usually more questions than answers.
Now talk is turning toward “getting back to business,” making our way back to some semblance of normalcy.
But when it comes to reopening our doors and bringing back workers, what really is the new normal? Life will be different, we know that. We also know we need to keep workers and guests safe from infection. But how do we go about doing so in a way that achieves not only business goals, but also ensures each of us is doing everything possible to protect their health and wellness?
That’s where a well-thought-out game plan comes in. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about everything you have to do to get ready, stop. Take a deep breath. And get planning on Workplace Safety.
This month, we’ve included information on developing a set of practices and guidelines that will help you contain the spread of COVID-19 and other contagious illnesses as you bring your workers back. Topics include cleaning, disinfecting, controlling viral spread and more.
Keep in mind, none of the information we’re providing is meant to offer legal advice. Rather, the idea here is to get you started in the right direction. For more detailed information concerning your situation, consult an attorney or refer to your state or local laws.
- Prevent and reduce transmission among employees!
- Maintain healthy business operations!
- Promote a healthy work environment!
Business’ Role in Stopping the Spread of COVID-19
Make no mistake, the workplace will play a pivotal part of keeping COVID-19 at bay. The plan you develop now will dictate the health of your workers, and your success in remaining open for business once everyone returns.
There are several OSHA standards that may apply to your legal responsibilities concerning workplace COVID-19 issues. Most relevant is the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970, which requires employers to furnish each worker employment and a place of employment, which are “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Some state plans do not have a General Duty clause but enforce this same idea through different regulations.
Current White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again recommend a phased, multi-step approach to reopening that may work for your setting. Following updates from State health officials, and obtaining the latest information on COVID-19, is also recommended.
The best back-to-work management plans will emphasize four general COVID-19 exposure areas and control opportunities:
- Air Quality
- Spread Control
- Maintenance Protocols
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Because COVID-19 can move from person-to-person through the air, the general air quality of your facility may help or hinder its spread. Before you send your workers back to any enclosed areas, including shops, break rooms and office spaces, ensure that your facility’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are operating as efficiently as possible.
Effective HVAC units are considered to operate at 20-30 air changes per hour. As is recommended, change air filters to a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter that meets the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of 14 or higher. Keeping your HVAC system running around the clock will make sure your employees and guests are breathing clean air.
Make sure your plan includes steps that help control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Create and communicate protocols for how visitors will be greeted when arriving at your building, as well as how employees will be addressed as they arrive at work.
Practicing social distancing, along with recognizing which surfaces are frequently touched throughout your facility, will help maintain a clean working environment for all.
Before you get back to the business OF business, there are a variety of maintenance protocols that should be considered to ensure a safe and productive work environment. From creating a cleaning routine to identifying high touch surfaces, maintenance protocols are another important component in helping to slow the spread.
It’s important to clean and disinfect the surfaces in your facility to ensure a hygienic work environment. High touch surfaces, such as those in waiting rooms or on the shop floor, should be cleaned and disinfected at regular intervals.
Doorknobs, light switches, toilets, faucets, shared keyboards and phones are all examples of high touch surfaces. Cleaning with soap and water reduces the number of germs on a surface, while disinfecting kills any germs on the surface. Refer to the EPA for a list of recommended cleaning supplies that are approved to be effective against COVID-19.
Less frequently touched surfaces will also need to be cleaned and disinfected from time to time. Soft surfaces, such as drapes, carpeted floors or exterior welcome mats should be laundered or steam cleaned at regular intervals.
Exterior surfaces, such as equipment or machinery, exterior handrails, doors and handles, should also be cleaned and disinfected at regular intervals. Especially for outdoor surfaces frequently touched by multiple people, surfaces should be cleaned with soap and water on a regular basis. While the chance of spread is low from sidewalks, pressure washing these surfaces may help stop the virus from being tracked into your facility.
Personal Protective Equipment
It’s important for each business to carefully assess the risks that all individual employees, departments and visitors may face on a day to day basis. Make any risks obvious to both employees and visitors by installing signage noting when Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needs to be worn.
Make sure all employees have access to the PPE they need to minimize their exposure to COVID-19. The correct use of gloves, masks, goggles and face shields is just one strategy your company can implement to help protect your customers and employees from exposure
Workers who are considered at medium risk of exposure may need to wear a combination of personal protective equipment. For those who work closely with anyone known or suspected of being infected with COVID-19, the company will need to provide access to safety glasses or goggles, as well as disposable gloves. Higher risk situations may also require the use of protective clothing, such as chemical suits and boot covers.