How to Return to Work Safely

Headline on COVID cases in U.S.

As the year 2020 marched forward, it became evident that COVID-19 would force a lockdown across the U.S., if not across the globe. For seemingly endless months, everyone has had one question on their mind. When will it be safe to return to work? As you work through the logistics of distancing, wearing masks, and sanitizing workstations the safety of your employees is a top priority. 

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The need to return to work safely cannot be overstated. Without appropriate guidelines and personal protection equipment, companies could see their doors shut even longer than anticipated. To ensure the safety of associates, it’s necessary follow CDC guidelines and implement safety measures.

Understanding and Acknowledging How COVID-19 Spreads When You are Around Co-workers

In the beginning, it was unsure how the coronavirus spread. Many wondered if it was through contact or some other means. With more organizations performing experiments, it has become clear that individuals contract the virus through one of two ways: close contact with infected persons or respiratory droplets that spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

It was also thought, at first, that asymptomatic individuals could spread the virus by touching surfaces after touching their face, eyes, nose, or mouth. While this information hasn’t been 100% confirmed or discounted, some accounts have shown that even though it is possible it is not the main form of transference.   

Related Link: Common Modes of Transmission of Infectious Diseases

Physical Distancing Graphic of Person Coughing

Training Practices For All Employees on How to Work During a Pandemic

Given the severity and diversity of how people are affected by COVID-19, training for all employees is a necessity. The last thing your company needs is an outbreak of fresh cases. Thankfully, OSHA provides some guidance on what to cover when training your employees. Below is a list of topics to cover to ensure your employees are properly trained on COVID-19

  • How COVID-19 spreads (even by asymptomatic individuals)
  • Symptoms and signs associated with COVID-19 exposure
  • How to isolate individuals with possible COVID-19 infections
  • How and where to report possible cases of COVID-19, 
  • How to use and discard of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),    
  • General description of COVID-19 symptoms
  • When to seek medical attention
  • How to prevent the spread of COVID-19
  • employer procedures for preventing its spread at the workplace
  • How an infected person can spread COVID-19 to others even if they are not sick
  • How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by using cloth face covers
  • Cough and sneeze etiquette

If you feel that you need additional resources, you can visit OSHA’s online library for training requirements and resources.

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Changes Made in Your Workplace Operations For Coronavirus Safety Precautions 

Like any worldwide event, nothing will be the same after the COVID pandemic. This is our new normal. What exactly do those statements mean, though? What changes will you need to make to improve safety precautions regarding the coronavirus?

Related Link: Exposure Control Plans in 2020

  • Improving Sanitation 

First and foremost, sanitizing all areas and surfaces commonly touched will greatly reduce the risk of spread. For instance, phones, door handles, and elevator buttons are the most touched surfaces. Keeping these surfaces sanitized and cleaned will improve the overall sanitation of your workplace

Sanitizing Laptop
  • Improve Hygiene

At the beginning of the pandemic, the common subject discussed in regards to preventing the spread of the coronavirus was hygiene; specifically, hand washing. It became a new fad to upload videos of handwashing to popular songs. The goal was to encourage individuals to take the full 20 seconds necessary to wash away any bacteria or viruses that might linger on their hands. 

  • Improving Ventilation and Filtration

After various studies on the longevity of droplets from infected persons, it became clear that the virus that causes COVID could survive and spread in close contact (up to six feet). The best way to clear the air around your employees is with high-quality ventilation and filtration. The more you dilute the concentration of droplets, the better your chances of preventing others from contracting the virus. 

  • Reduce Densities and Don’t Mask Realities

Before the pandemic, open floor plan offices were all the rage. Companies wanted to encourage social networking within the office to boost morale and creative thinking. However, with social distancing and limited occupancy acting as the biggest barriers to spreading the virus, these innovative ideas must take a back seat. To prevent droplets from traveling to other co-workers, consider facing desks and workstations towards walls. Some businesses are even opting to install plexiglass dividers between stations. 

  • Assess Where Hazards are Likely to Occur

Knowing where contraction is most likely to occur will help you determine where to spend your efforts in making changes. An assessment of hazards should include determining when, where, and how associates are most likely to face exposure to the virus that causes COVID. It also means having the forethought to consider where and how employees might be exposed outside of work, and possibly introduce the virus to others. 

  • Social Distancing at Work

Keeping staff healthy and safe is a major priority, but how can social distancing work in an office setting? According to the CDC, it is the responsibility of employers to update and implement plans for returning to work safely during COVID-19. Making sure employees maintain a distance of six feet and wear appropriate cloth face coverings should be a part of that plan. 

  • Workplace Flexibilities Such as Remote Work For Those on Sick Leave

In an ideal situation, sick leave would not be a rising conflict. However, as the numbers of those infected with COVID-19 rise, more individuals and companies have found themselves working out various conflicts related to taking time off. As such, there is a rise in virtual meeting spaces such as Teams, Zoom, and Google Meet. While the pandemic has had a negative impact in many ways, technology has helped many companies overcome obstacles. Flexibility has become a vital component for remote workers and their employers

  • Protocols to Identify and Isolate a Sick Employee

Conducting regular health checks helps to identify employees who might be carrying the coronavirus. Before entering the building, workers should have their temperature checked for a possible fever. If they show a temperature at or above 100.4, they should return home until they are no longer symptomatic. 

What do you do if an employee begins to develop symptoms while at work? You first need to identify what symptoms they are experiencing and then isolate them. In your return to work plan, you need to designate a space or room for isolating potentially infected persons. 

  • Anti-retaliation Protocols For Employees Who Refuse to Follow Work Safety

Viral videos are full of individuals refusing to wear masks or comply with other safety measures. To discourage retaliation from workers that refuse to follow the safety measure you put in place, it’s important to establish anti-retaliation protocols before returning to work. Your protocols should include creating a program that starts at the top. When leadership is held to the same accountability as those that they lead, it makes a huge impact.  

Related Link: Tips for Biohazard Disposal During the COVID-19 Crisis

Emoticons wearing masks

As states begin to re-open, it’s imperative that companies think through the logistics of creating a safe space for employees to work. The experts at the CDC, OSHA, and the WHO continue to iterate how important social distancing is to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Returning to work safely cannot happen if organizations refuse to acknowledge and understand how COVID-19 spreads. Training on hygiene, sanitation, and safety protocols will encourage your employees and let them know that you take their safety seriously. 

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