Back To Business: Guidance for Safely Returning to Work
As many states continue to lift stay-at-home mandates and restrictions, businesses are gearing up to reopen. However, the workplace will not be business as usual. Employers now face new challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond dealing with disruptions to normal operations, businesses need to prepare to protect their employees’ health and safety in the workplace. While guidelines for reopening may vary depending on specific states or industries, all workplaces should implement general steps to reduce the spread of the virus. This article provides general tips for safely returning to work.
Conduct a Hazard Assessment and Establish Controls
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to provide their employees with a “place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” At this point, the COVID-19 pandemic is a clearly recognized hazard that can cause death or serious physical harm. Employers should conduct a hazard assessment to determine when, where, how and what sources of COVID-19 employees are likely to be exposed to while at the workplace. This will ensure that proper controls are implemented to combat the risk of occupational exposure. Organizations that have implemented a management system, such as ISO 45001 or ISO 9001, should work to identify hazards specific to the virus, implement controls and establish contingency plans.
Employers should consider the following when assessing potential workplace hazards and risks of COVID-19:
• Which job or workplace activities involve potential exposure to employees?
• Which employees closely interact with customers, visitors or other coworkers in the workplace?
• What is the current outbreak condition in the community?
Establish Procedures for Cleaning and Disinfecting
Employers should work to establish documented procedures for proper cleaning and disinfecting. Documented procedures or instructions for cleaning, disinfection and sanitization should include:
• the use of EPA approved disinfectants,
• instructions for required personal protective equipment (PPE),
• cleaning frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles or railings, and
• disinfecting tools or other shared equipment per shift.
Our consultants have the expertise to assist with designing and documenting standard operating procedures (SOPs). Click here to learn how we can help establish SOPs for cleaning and sanitizing your workplace.
Communicate the “New Normal”
As organizations are working on shifting past their immediate response plans, workplaces are entering into a “new normal”. Even if these are temporary changes, it is critical that those in leadership communicate their expectations for any new policies and procedures. Management should consider holding a staff meeting with employees who will be returning to the office to discuss the new precautions and expectations. Leaders should work to:
• educate and train employees on how to protect themselves
• communicate preventative measures your organization has implemented
• discuss concerns regarding workplace safety and overall wellbeing with employees
• establish employee screening stations
• encouraging those who feel ill to stay at home
Practice Social Distancing
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), practicing social or physical distancing is one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. This means keeping at least 6 feet between yourself and others who do not live in your home. By practicing social distancing, employees reduce the opportunity to come in contact with others who may be infected or contaminated surfaces. Organizations can work on implementing social distancing measures by:
• holding virtual meetings,
• discontinuing nonessential travel and onsite visitors,
• discouraging employees from sharing tools and shaking hands,
• staggering works shifts, and
• rearranging workstations or installing partitions to create more distance when possible.
Most importantly, employers should isolate employees who begin to exhibit symptoms until they can leave the workplace.
Promote Good Hygiene
Practicing good hygiene is a simple yet effective control in preventing the spread of a virus. Organizations should promote the basic hygiene etiquette and measures to employees, such as:
• washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,
• using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol,
• coughing or sneezing into a tissue or into your elbow,
• wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), cloth face coverings and gloves,
• avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands,
Taking proactive steps to ensure the health of the workplace is critical to a safe reopening. Just as employers are ready to reopen, employees are ready to return to the workplace with confidence. While organizational change can be difficult, implementing new guidelines is crucial to employee safety and the health of your business. Reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at work will make it possible for businesses to reopen safely.
Victoria Ontiveros | Marketing Coordinator
Victoria focuses on creating quality educational content that provides value to current and potential clients. By collaborating with members of leadership and sales, she is able to develop informative articles that answer common questions and connect with current trends.
Victoria earned her Bachelor of Science in Sociology with an emphasis in communications from Texas A&M University.