As employers in many areas of the country bring employees back to work, the conversation about how to keep both employees and customers as safe as possible becomes more urgent.
While some COVID-19 prevention measures are specific to individual workplaces and industries, there are many measures that can be taken in almost any workplace to reduce the chance of transmission.
Here are a few tips that most employers can adapt to make their facility safer, no matter their industry.
Consider online training as an option.
Properly educating your staff before they come into the workplace is a zero-risk strategy that allows you to set safety ahd hygenie expectations before they ever interact with any customers or clients. Once they come into work, you can be prepared to further educate them on engineering controls and state-specific requirements about signage and sanitization.
If you are needing to train your employees to reduce the spread of COVID-19 infection in the workplace, please contact us to learn more about our group pricing and company training platform.
Mandate mask-wearing for everyone—employees and customers.
At the beginning of this pandemic in the United States, the CDC and the WHO recommended that the general public not wear masks—primarily because their effectiveness was not well understood, and the authorities wanted to make sure the limited supply of medical-grade masks were reserved for healthcare workers.
However, now the effectiveness of mask-wearing in preventing the spread of COVID-19 has been well documented.
There have been multiple studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of masks. One experiment used high-speed video to demonstrate that hundreds of droplets were expelled when saying a short phrase, but that almost all of them were prevented from spreading simply by covering the mouth and nose with a damp washcloth.
This study shows clearly that even simple cloth face masks are effective. But masks are most effective when everyone wears them. So if you want to make your workplace safer, it’s essential to put in place and enforce a strong mask-wearing policy for everyone who enters the building.
Promote behaviors that reduce the spread.
Behavioral changes can also reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Teach your employees proper respiratory and hand-washing etiquette, and make sure to hang signs in visible places to remind people of the appropriate behavior.
Cough or respiratory etiquette refers to behavior around coughing and sneezing. Since the coronavirus is transmitted in the air via coughs and sneezes, adopting such etiquette can significantly reduce the spread.
Appropriate cough etiquette includes:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Dispose of the tissue immediately in a no-touch trash can.
- If you have no tissue, cough into your elbow instead of your hand.
- Wash your hands immediately after coughing or sneezing.
Hand-washing and hand sanitizing protocols are also important. In addition to hanging in the air for several hours, airborne pathogens can attach to heavier respiratory droplets that land on surfaces—where you can become infected simply by touching that surface and then touching your face.
Employees are vulnerable to infection simply by touching shared surfaces, tools, touchscreens, and other things in their environment. Teach them to wash or disinfect their hands properly directly after touching any shared surfaces or tools, using the restroom, or handling contaminated materials.
Correct hand-washing protocol includes:
- Rinse your hands under running water.
- Apply soap and scrub for 40-60 seconds, scrubbing thoroughly between your fingers, the backs of your hands, and beneath your nails.
- Thoroughly rinse your hands under running water.
- Dry your hands on a disposable towel or using an air dryer.
Hand sanitizer can also be effective in reducing the risk of infection. Hand sanitizers should be at least 60% alcohol, and may not work as well on hands that are visibly dirty.
Maintain six feet of distance between people.
Maintaining appropriate distance is also key, as the virus is less likely to spread over distances of more than six feet—although its range can be increased dramatically if it’s carried by air conditioning circulating inside a closed room.
Still, keeping six feet of distance between people can be helpful. You can help people maintain distance by placing signage on the floor, so people can stay six feet apart in line; place barriers that keep customers six feet from your employees; and place chairs and workstations at least six feet apart.
Introduce engineering controls.
Engineering controls are changes you can make in your environment to improve its safety and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
We’ve mentioned some engineering controls already—such as signage showing people how far apart to stand in a line, barriers keeping your customers at least six feet from employees, and signage strategically placed to remind people to wash their hands and practice appropriate respiratory etiquette—especially in high-traffic areas.
Other examples of engineering controls might include Plexiglas barriers, placing hand sanitizer and tissue dispensers close to shared surfaces, and making sure all your waste bins are no-touch.
Limit the occupancy in your building.
The higher the population density in your building, the more difficult it will be for people to maintain appropriate distance, and the easier it will be for the virus to spread.
For this reason, it’s important to reduce the number of people in your building as much as possible. Some measures to take include:
- Have as many people as possible work from home.
- Introduce online conferencing technologies for meetings and appointments.
- Limit points of entry to your workplace.
- Limit the number of customers inside the building at any one time.
Recent measures introduced by big box stores such as Wal-Mart during the COVID-19 pandemic have limited density to five customers per 1,000 square feet.
Facilities housing especially vulnerable populations—such as elder care facilities—should consider placing screening stations outside each entrance to take visitors’ temperatures and evaluate for other COVID-19 symptoms.
How often you disinfect, and what you disinfect, depends on your industry and the nature of your workplace. Some guidelines for what to disinfect on a regular basis, from once a day to after each use if possible, include:
- Shared spaces such as bathrooms, offices, waiting rooms, and common areas.
- Shared electronic equipment, including computers, mice and keyboards, workstations, iPads, touchscreens, telephones, remote controls, ATM machines, and tools.
- Frequently-touched surfaces and furniture including tables, light switches, countertops, elevator buttons, toilets and sinks, railings, paper and soap dispensers, water cooler controls, chairs, desks, and doorknobs.
- Porous surfaces such as drapes, rugs, bedding, and carpeting.
Phased reopenings without stringent guidelines can sow confusion—and both employees and employers are rightfully concerned about maintaining a safe workplace. Implement these precautions and adapt them to your facility, and you should be able to limit the spread—if not to eliminate it entirely.
For a thorough deep-dive into how to limit the spread of COVID-19 infection in the workplace, check out our Airborne Pathogens training course.