States and cities are beginning to lift lockdown restrictions on stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures. Office buildings are prime places for diseases like this to spread. That’s why it’s vital for companies to implement new strategies and safety precautions before returning to work. Sanitation and hands-free technology will play a key role in COVID-19 reopening workplace strategies. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is encouraging companies to create workplace safety guidelines to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19 and reduce its impact on employees. To help get you started, here at eight steps all workplaces should take to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus.
- Encourage your employees to stay home if they’re sick. Any employee who feels ill should avoid leaving their house to prevent spreading germs. Consider implementing flexible sick time policies or additional sick leave to accommodate employees who test positive for COVID-19. Additionally, maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member or take care of children due to school and childcare closures. Regardless, employees who have symptoms (i.e. fever, cough, or shortness of breath) should notify their supervisor and stay home.
- Employers should actively promote frequent and thorough hand washing by providing a place for your employees, customers and frequent worksite visits to wash their hands. If soap and running water aren’t immediately available, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol. Also, support employee hygiene by keeping tissues and disinfectant wipes readily available to all employees. Additionally, discourage handshaking. It’s almost an involuntary response, especially when doing business, but the CDC strongly advises against handshakes during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Establish flexible worksites and work hours, if feasible. Stagger work schedules to minimize the number of employees in a space at one time. Implement staggered shifts or have a percentage of your staff work remotely for one week, then come into the office the next week—ensuring that thorough cleanings are done between shifts. With the implementation of remote work and staggered shifts, make sure your security system offers cloud-based access so you can easily control access to your facility remotely and offer better security for your employees.
- Discourage your employees from using other workers’ phones, desks, or other work tools and equipment—especially headsets or other objects that are placed near the mouth or nose. Try to reconfigure your worksites to add more distance between employees. Start by spacing desks at least six feet apart. You can also use physical barriers and floor decals to help guide employees and customers on where to walk to maintain the recommended distance. Consider minimizing face-to-face contact between employees or assign tasks that allow them to maintain six feet of distance from other workers, customers, or visitors.
- Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. Start by identifying where and how coronavirus could be transmitted at your workplace. Consider all the high-traffic areas and touchpoints of your facility: door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, lobbies, bathrooms, break rooms, and shared offices. Then, make a plan to mitigate risk in those areas with additional cleaning and disinfection, both prior to reopening the office and as a new normal routine. Door handles, desks, phones, light switches, and faucets should be cleaned and disinfected at least daily.
- Use EPA-approved cleaning chemicals with label claims against the coronavirus. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all necessary dilution and protection practices of all cleaning and disinfection products according to the label. Especially clean and disinfect facilities after confirmed COVID-19 exposure. According to the CDC, “current evidence suggests that novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. It is unknown how long the air inside a room occupied by someone with confirmed COVID-19 remains potentially infectious.”
- Encourage your employees to report safety and health concerns. Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising a variety of rights guaranteed under the OSH Act, such as filing a safety or health complaint with OSHA, raising a health and safety concern with their employers, participating in an OSHA inspection or reporting a work-related injury or illness. If a worker is discriminated against for raising safety and health concerns, employees have within 30 days of the discriminatory act to file a complaint with OSHA.
- Each employee should wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose while in the workplace, except when using break time to eat or drink. Employers should issue masks or cloth face coverings to their employees. In the event an employer is unable to provide masks, they should provide the materials and CDC tutorial about how to create a cloth face covering. In workplace settings where employees are working alone in segregated spaces, employees can remove their masks. However, workers should wear a mask from the time they enter the building until the time they arrive at their cubicle/workstation.