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The entire concept for workplace safety is built on the idea that we can prevent accidents, and resulting injuries, from happening if we identify workplace hazards and train employees how to avoid them. Avoidance might mean properly using personal protective equipment (PPE), practicing good housekeeping, or simply paying close attention to the task at hand.

But what happens when the employees themselves become part of the hazard? How do you protect them from each other, or in some cases, from themselves? Such is the challenge with COVID-19, the omnipresent and invisible hazard we now face.

Organizations and employees around the country are eager to get back to work, but it won’t be as simple as opening the doors and returning to business as usual. The threat of COVID-19 isn’t going to disappear anytime soon, so employers need to be ready with a plan to ensure workers’ health and safety on the job.

Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have produced interim guidance for maintaining safe working environments.

For that guidance to be effective, however, employers will need to perform a risk assessment specific to their circumstances. There is no one plan that is going to work for every business. You will want to consider the known risks and how they specifically impact your workplace, what type of controls you need to put in place, how you will respond to sick employees and how you might adapt to evolving conditions.

Known Risk

By now we all know that COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that appears to spread mainly among people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).

Much is still unknown about how the virus spreads, but respiratory illnesses are typically transmitted through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses, or possibly be inhaled into the lungs, of people who are nearby.

Symptoms of COVID-19 most often include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. Recent studies, however, have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

Current evidence also suggests that the virus may remain viable for hours or days on surfaces made from a variety of materials, according to the CDC.

Impact on your Workplace

What type of business do you operate and what are your specific safety concerns related to the spread of a highly contagious virus? Here are some things to consider when answering these questions:

  • What is your employees’ level of interaction with the general public? More contact with people means greater risk of exposure.
  • How is your workplace laid out? How close are coworkers to each other? Closer proximity to coworkers for extended periods of time means greater exposure to risk.
  • Do coworkers typically share equipment? How would you clean and disinfect between users?
  • How savvy are your employees with using safety equipment? Do they already wear PPE?
  • How well do your employees adapt to and follow safety procedures? The effectiveness of any of the precautions you take to prevent the spread of the disease is largely dependent on employee participation.
Types of Controls Available

What actions can you take to mitigate the spread of disease in your workplace? What controls are available to you? Ideas to consider:

How can you practice social distancing?
  • Can employees work remotely?
  • Can you stagger shifts to reduce exposure among coworkers?
  • Can you increase physical distance between workers and each other and workers and customers?
  • Can you put up physical barriers to separate people?
  • Can you deliver products or pick up supplies without physical interaction with other humans (i.e., leave at the door)?
Common and frequently used surfaces need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. How can you routinely clean and disinfect the workplace?
  • Are you providing tissues and no-touch garbage cans?
  • Do workers have access to running water and soap?
  • Can you provide hand sanitizers at workstations?
  • Can you provide sanitizing disposable wipes?
  • What procedures would you put in place for cleaning?
Sick employees and suspected sick employees cannot remain in the workplace. What are your sick leave policies? What is your company culture around sick leave?
  • Are you prepared to implement Emergency FMLA and Emergency Sick Leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?
  • Do you have a procedure for employees to notify supervisors that they are sick and won’t be reporting to work?
  • Will you do temperature checks when employees report to work?
  • Where will you separate and detain sick employees to send them home?
  • Do you have a plan to work with local health officials to track others who may have been exposed to sick employees?
What is your communication plan with employees?
  • How will you inform employees about your plans to return to work and what precautions you are taking?
  • How will you share your expectations for their safety compliance?
    • Staying home when sick.
    • Reporting symptoms and going home if they become sick at work.
    • Maintaining social distancing and good hygiene.
    • Wearing any necessary PPE.
Adaption to Evolving Conditions

The COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid and ever-evolving situation. As we learn more about the virus and how it spreads, guidance on mitigating illness will likely change. Experts predict that returning to work will likely cause spikes in the infection rates. How will you adapt to evolving conditions?

  • Are you prepared to alter business practices to maintain operations?
    • Identify alternative suppliers
    • Prioritize existing customers
    • Temporarily suspend some operations
  • How will you handle increased absenteeism if employees or their families are sick?
    • Cross-train employees to perform essential functions (while maintaining social distancing)?
    • Hire contract or temporary workers?
 Additional Guidance

There are no easy answers here, but careful consideration of your specific circumstances and business needs will get you one step closer to making good decisions for the health of your organization and your employees.

We continue to monitor the evolving situation and we will update our guidance as more information becomes available. In the meantime, we encourage you to reach out to our knowledgeable team and visit our Coronavirus Resource page. We are here to help you navigate this difficult and challenging time.

Coronavirus Resources

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A collection of articles from the McClone team with the helpful knowledge and insights to ensure your organization is well protected.