Coronavirus Workplace Safety Planning Part 2: Creating a Safe Work Environment
The Written Protocol
Like any other part of your business in which a set of specific guidelines determines best practices, a written protocol gives you a specific course of action to follow. You’ll have a clear plan on not only how to limit COVID-19 exposure, but how to handle confirmed or suspected cases.
Because you’re all in this together, you may want to consider gathering input from your workers and other stakeholders in advance. Find out how they feel about changes and see if they have ideas that pertain to their specific job functions. Then, craft a plan and make sure everyone has a copy, ensuring all of your teams understand the rules, are aware of their responsibilities and remain fully aware of how they can contribute to a safe workplace.
- No sick employees should come into work
- Establish a required notification procedure for symptomatic employees
- Designate a point of contact for any COVID-related issues
- Identify remedial sanitization measures for impacted employees
- Identify triggering events for quarantine procedure
- Establish quarantine duration and conditions for return
- Develop a company travel policy that in some cases eliminiates travel to COVID-19 hotspots, and in other requires advanced disclosure so health can be monitored upon return.
In addition to everyday steps to prevent COVID-19, social distancing puts a protective space between you and others. Without a doubt, it remains one of the best tools we have to avoid being exposed to this virus, and slowing its spread locally and across the nation.
COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact for a prolonged period of time. Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs. Recent studies indicate that people who are infected but do not have symptoms likely also play a role in the spread of COVID-19.
Stay at least 6 feet (approximately two arms’ lengths) from other people. Limit close contact in workplaces, indoors and out. Since people can spread the virus before they know they are sick, it is important to stay away from others when possible, even if you—or they—have no symptoms. Social distancing is especially important for people who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
The effectiveness of social distancing may be enhanced by staggering shifts and breaks, and increasing spacing between workstations and community areas. Whenever possible, substitute virtual meetings for in-person gatherings. Discourage employees from any physical contact with each other and close off or limit the use of any communal spaces.
Educate and Enable
Make sure your team knows how to conduct proper hygiene to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control have been proven for their effectiveness:
- Wash hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds each time.
- Whenever soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of at least 60%. Cover all surfaces of the hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who may be sick.
- Make sure everyone is aware that some people with COVID-19 will show no obvious symptoms.
Make the decision as to whether PPE will be required or optional. If required, provide or reimburse employees for any equipment. If optional, think about guidelines, limitations or restrictions on the type of PPE permitted, as well as any employee-created PPE.
Consider implementing temperature checks into your coronavirus workplace safety plan for employees before they enter the workplace and for those who visit your establishment. Remember that the results of the test are considered a medical record and therefore subject to the same confidentiality and record-keeping requirements.
Designate a management-level team member (or a designated team) to handle the tests. The temperature taker should thoroughly review the guidelines laid out by the FDA on COVID-19 thermography devices, as well as the instructions for the thermometer or scanning equipment you are using.
It’s best practice to use a device that does not require any direct contact between the temperature taker. If you’re unable to purchase a contactless device, the temperature taker should ensure the thermometer is thoroughly cleaned after each use and should also wear appropriate PPE and change gloves between each test.
- Monitor federal, state, and local public health communications about COVID-19 and ensure workers have access to the same information
- Frequently check the CDC COVID-19 website
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
- Consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks before entering the facility
- Conduct a thorough hazard assessment to determine if workplace hazards are present, or are likely to be present
- Determine what type of controls or PPE are needed for specific job duties
- Practice social distancing and wear face masks
- Follow the CDC cleaning and disinfecting recommendation
While we all look forward to getting back to work and regaining some normality, the fact of the matter is COVID-19 has not been eradicated. In fact, it continues to expand, with new developments and outbreaks occurring regularly.
It’s imperative for all of us who employ workers to take their health and safety seriously. Take precautions, monitor new information, develop a plan to watch for symptoms and respond to infections. Above all, communicate, communicate, communicate. As you develop your written protocols, know how labor laws may impact sick employees and consider consulting with counsel to learn how legal issues related to the coronavirus may impact your workplace.