Researchers in the United States and across the world are learning new information about COVID-19 every day. On July 9, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in indoor spaces, especially those that are crowded and poorly ventilated, could be possible. WHO and other public health officials haven’t conducted sufficient research to conclude that the virus is “airborne.”
The CDC and OSHA have issued guidelines for workplaces preparing to reopen. The organizations continue to update their guidelines as more information about SARS-CoV-2 becomes known. Safety organizations, including the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) and the National Safety Council (NSC), have also put together return to work resources.
The NSC cautions that “business owners should reopen when they’re ready—not necessarily because they can.” Facilities should only open if they can put proper social distancing and sanitation procedures in place to keep all staff safe.
As your organization plans to reopen, implement these protocols to ensure your employees return to the workplace safely:
1. Continue to provide remote work options for high-risk employees when possible. The CDC recommends providing teleworking options for staff members who are at risk of severe illness, including older employees and those who have underlying medical conditions.
2. Make design and layout changes to your facility to encourage safe practices. Your facility should be set up so staff members are able to maintain social distancing of 6 feet from each other. This may require moving workstations to ensure this setup is possible. If social distancing isn’t an option, you must install transparent shields or other physical barriers.
Additionally, the NSC recommends upgrading your facility with certain items to keep staff safe. Employers should consider installing door openers that are hands-free arm pull or foot operated and motion-detection sensors to use in place of switches.
3. Require your workers to wear masks to decrease the risk of disease transmission. On July 14, CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, MD, called for the universal use of cloth face coverings. Clearly communicate your workplace requirements for the use of cloth or N95 masks. Consider providing masks to your staff to ensure everyone has one.
4. Clean and disinfect facility areas often. Surfaces that are touched by people should be frequently cleaned with EPA-approved disinfectants against COVID-19 (List N). It’s also critical for employers to supply soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, tissues, and hands-free trash cans.
5. Use signs and markings to encourage safe practices. The NSC recommends that facilities use signs and floor markings to encourage social distancing in the workplace, as well as one-way directional flow in hallways. Additionally, employers should provide signs in all relevant languages with instructions on cough and sneeze etiquette, proper hand washing, and wearing masks.
As your organization transitions back to the workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential that you follow proper protocols to ensure your staff is working in a safe environment and decrease the risk of their exposure to COVID-19.
Working with a firm that provides infection prevention services, like Aarcher Consulting, can ensure your employees make a safe return to the workplace and continue to stay healthy after your facility reopens. At Aarcher Consulting, we perform assessments of facilities to document the status of workplace conditions and systems affecting potential employee exposure to pathogens. Our credentialed team of Certified Industrial Hygienists led by Science Director, Infection Prevention Sarah Connolly, an infectious disease expert and former CDC staff member, will provide your workforce the peace-of-mind to resume and continue facility operations. Aarcher Consulting is currently scheduling facility assessments and infection prevention strategy development anywhere in the United States. Contact us to discuss your organizational needs.
COVID-19: Keep Your Workplace Safe and Healthy During the Pandemic, Guy Burdick, EHS Daily Advisor.