The news about COVID-19 is getting better and, in Colorado, as in other states, plans are underway on how best to reopen the state.
If you’re a business owner, how do you go about preparing for that moment when the all-clear is sounded, what steps should you take to ensure you’re ready, that your workforce is ready and that things go as smoothly as possible?
It’s important to remember that, without a vaccine, the signal to reopen may be unclear at best and it’s unlikely we’ll all flood back to work at once. Certain industries will reopen before others and so a gradual return is more likely, one that allows us to maintain social distancing at first to help ascertain whether (or not) it’s safe to get back to life as we knew it.
A gradual return would give employers time to require employees to fill out health assessments or get tested for COVID-19 before they walk back into the office and potentially make others ill.
So, aside from hand-washing and the use of sanitizer, what other protocols should business owners be thinking about? How best to prepare to ensure working conditions are safe for returning employees?
OSHA’s guidelines on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 offer a good starting point. Some of the very recommendations it made as the virus began its spread in the U.S. continue to make good sense now that we’re all thinking about getting back to the office or plant.
The most effective protection measures are referred to as engineering controls and administrative controls.
Engineering controls involve protecting employees from work-related hazards. For COVID-19, these controls include:
- Installing high-efficiency air filters.
- Increasing ventilation rates in the work environment.
- Installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards.
- Installing a drive-through window for customer service.
- Specialized negative pressure ventilation in some settings, such as for aerosol-generating procedures (e.g., airborne infection isolation rooms in healthcare settings and specialized autopsy suites in mortuary settings).
Administrative controls require action by the worker or employer. Typically, administrative controls are changes in work policy or procedures to reduce or minimize exposure to a hazard. Examples of administrative controls for COVID-19 that may make sense after your state or region lifts its stay-at-home order include:
- Reminding sick workers to stay at home.
- Establishing alternating days or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a facility at a given time, allowing them to maintain distance from one another while maintaining a full onsite work week.
- Providing workers with up-to-date education and training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviors (e.g., cough etiquette and care of PPE).
- Training workers who need to use protecting clothing and equipment how to put it on, use/wear it, and take it off correctly, including in the context of their current and potential duties. Training material should be easy to understand and available in the appropriate language and literacy level for all workers.
Depending on your line of business, some of the above may be unnecessary. But as any risk manager can tell you, where there is an exposure, there should be a control.