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Ways to Limit Exposure to COVID-19 in the Workplace (with posters from OSHA)

These last few months may have been some of the most challenging you have ever faced as an employer. Not only has this pandemic caused financial difficulties for many businesses and individuals, it has also forced us to question the ways in which we take responsibility for the safety of ourselves and others. As the restrictions on business operations begin to lift here in Florida, it is important to consider the steps you can take to make, and keep, your workplace a safe and healthy environment for everyone.

The first step you can take to ensure your workplace will stay safe is creating a plan that specifies how your business will deal with infectious disease. The plan you make to limit exposure to COVID-19 will look different for your workplace than for others, based on your industry. This is because every environment and industry has its own particular dangers and risks of exposure. (OSHA has guidelines on where your type of business is rated in terms of hazard.) Most of us are in workplaces that are classified low to medium hazard. This means that we are in work environments where we do not expect to regularly come into contact with people who are knowingly infected with COVID-19. This knowledge will dictate the types of measures you put in place to promote safety.

For all employees:

For your employees, you want to add to the general public guidelines to:

  1. Train workers on the signs and symptoms

  2. Setup policies and procedures for employees’ duties to limit potential Covid-19 exposures and provide in writing to employees.

  3. Beginning of the day

  4. During the shift

  5. End of shift

  6. End of the day

  7. Encourage the importance of staying home if they are sick

  8. Take the temperature of each employee when they report for work each day

  9. Provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) of masks, and gloves.

  10. Establish personal cleaning workstations at each location.

  11. Report any safety and health concerns

For employees on construction projects:

On Construction projects, you will want to take further protective actions:

  1. Others on the jobsite:

  2. As much as possible, limit the number of subcontractors working on the jobsite when your employees are working.

  3. Recognize the symptoms of Covid-19 and report any concerns

  4. Housekeeping

  5. Clean and disinfect portable toilets regularly

  6. Disinfect frequently touch items (work truck interiors, door pulls, toilet seats, etc.) regularly.

  7. Hygiene

  8. Frequently clean hands by either:

  9. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,

  10. Use 60%+ alcohol-based hand sanitizer and rub hands until dry

  11. Alternatives to shaking hands upon entry

  12. Cover coughs and sneezes – into a tissue or their elbow.

  13. Setup tasks that allow employees to remain distant

  14. Stagger work schedules when able

  15. Keep employees 6 feet apart from each other

  16. Identify choke points where employees are forced to stand together, such as hallways and elevators

  17. Coordinate site deliveries for minimal contact

  18. Keep toolbox talks short and limit the number of employees, while using social distancing practices

  19. Proper use, limitations, handling, removal, decontamination and disposal of PPE

  20. Wear cloth face coverings as able, snugly over nose and mouth

  21. Replace as needed, when it becomes wet or soiled

  22. Reminder to continue normal safety precautions

For employees on manufacturing lines:

For those on a manufacturing line, OSHA recommends making modifications to the line to:

  1. Change the line so all workers are 6 feet or more apart.

  2. Don’t station workers face to face.

  3. Setup partitions between workers, where proper separation is not possible.

  4. If two workers must be face to face, have a partition with a pass through below face level.

  5. Create staggered shifts, when possible

  6. Housekeeping

  7. Rigorous to reduce dust levels

  8. Clean and disinfect restrooms regularly

  9. Fill hand sanitizer and soaps regularly

  10. Disinfect frequently touch items (door pulls, toilet seats, equipment, etc.) regularly.

  11. Hygiene

  12. Alternatives to shaking hands upon entry

  13. Cover coughs and sneezes – into a tissue or their elbow.

  14. Frequently clean hands by either:

  15. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,

  16. Use 60%+ alcohol based hand sanitizer and rub hands together until dry

  17. Proper use, limitations, handling, removal, decontamination and disposal of PPE

  18. Wear cloth face coverings, as able, snugly over nose and mouth

  19. Replace as needed, when it becomes wet or soiled

  20. Reminder to continue normal safety precautions

Additional items to consider:

For others lines of business, there are a number of effective recommendations from OSHA, the CDC and the WHO that target workplaces and community areas, and this is where your plan can be the most tailored to your specific industry. Here are some important suggestions to consider:

  1. Decide whether you have the available funds to replace your air filtration system with a high efficiency filter. This can help reduce the chance of infection because of the way this virus is known to spread- primarily through respiratory droplets that are released into the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes.

  2. Decide whether it is possible to have or keep certain positions working remotely for the time being; the more your workplace is able to observe social distancing protocols, the safer it will be.

  3. Employees with positions that must remain at your physical location should be provided with their own space and equipment wherever possible. If employees must share equipment, be sure to have it properly sanitized between each use.

  4. Replace physical meetings with remote meetings. There are many great video conferencing options that are available right now.

  5. If your workplace is one that has high customer interaction, consider installing protective plastic guards at places with high contact, such as registers.

Sick policies:

An integral part of your infectious disease plan is mapping out guidelines to handle employee illness. It is important that no employees come to work with any COVID-19 symptoms, especially fever. You should have a plan of action for what to do if an employee develops symptoms at work, including ways to isolate that employee until they are able to leave the workplace. If an employee does develop any symptoms of this illness, the CDC recommends they isolate at home until at least 3 days have passed since the last symptom, or 10 days have passed since the symptoms first appeared.

Also, consider whether your sick policy can be made more flexible. If you are able to provide support for your employees in this way, your workplace will stay safer. They may even need to stay home to take care of sick family members at this time. Giving them your support will be beneficial to everyone. For these special circumstances, you may decide it is not necessary to require a doctor’s note to prove an employee has been sick. Remember that it will hurt your business and productivity far more if someone who is sick comes to or stays at work and infects more people than if they miss a few days by staying home in isolation.

As we mentioned, OSHA provides guides tailored for specific industries to assist you. Once you have laid out your infectious disease plan, it is vital to communicate this plan effectively and clearly to all employees. If they are clear on the exact steps to take for prevention, your workplace will stay as safe as possible. In large workplaces and those with customer exposure, consider putting up posters on proper hand washing and social distancing techniques. Please visit the links listed below if you have more questions or wish to explore in further depth the suggestions laid out in this article. The measures you take right now will determine the health and safety of your employees and your business as we navigate through this challenging time.

OSHA posters:

General business guidelines:

Specific industry guidelines:

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