Workplace safety has been and continues to be a hot topic of conversation this year. Certainly, there are some extra measures which are appropriate in light of the new threat of Covid-19. However, workplace safety is never something to be overlooked or ignored because it’s important to provide it for all employees.
In this article, we provide some answers for companies wondering how they can improve workplace safety sufficiently when reopening their doors to employees, customers, or both.
Covid-19 Safety Protocols
Let’s address the priority threat concerning health and safety at present: Covid-19. The CDC has released guidance including a centralized page for business owners and managers to review. There’s also an OSHA PDF file here that includes specific suggestions from the CDC to assist business owners about how to keep staff safe from Covid-19. It is not a change in the safety regulations, but instead an instructive guide which is well worth reading cover-to-cover.
The risk of Covid-19 is from exposure to SARS-CoV-2. This comes from touching infected surfaces or breathing in infected droplets in the air.
Safety Suggestions Vary Depending on Business Type
The way to stay safer from Covid-19 largely depends on the type of work being conducted, where it’s being delivered, and whom the employees will come into contact with. By examining these factors, lead managers can determine what appropriate measures should be taken.
Office workers, for the most part, are mostly concerned with each other. However, they do go back to their homes which may be shared with others who in turn meet a different set of people for their work too. Add in regular shopping and other necessary trips outside, and the risk can exponentially grow. Therefore, just being in an office doesn’t automatically keep employees safe.
For many companies, the best advice is to have employees work remotely from home and provide technology services necessary to facilitate this. For instance, companies may choose to pay for an upgrade to an employee’s internet connection to improve their ability to participate in video conferences rather than leaving the employee with this new financial burden.
By reducing the number of employees coming into the office, the risk of exposure is reduced dramatically. It also avoids the potential for an infection to spread quickly across the office. Keeping at least six feet away from other employees is a good idea. It may be necessary to spread desks out to avoid closer contact. When this isn’t possible, wearing a face mask is advisable when social distancing isn’t consistently possible. Also, include hand sanitizers and regularly wipe all surfaces down with disinfectant.
Warehouse employees are more likely to come into contact with both employees and outside visitors making either deliveries or collections. These kinds of people come into contact with numerous others every workday and offer a higher potential of being infected with Covid-19. Therefore, it’s necessary for any staff working at the warehouse to wear a face mask to avoid the risk of infection.
Even when the only people present in the warehouse are employees of the company, wearing a face mask is probably advisable to minimize risk factors.
In the hospitality industry, the staff comes into contact with many different customers every day. This makes it particularly challenging to avoid potential infections.
Plexiglass or other see-through protective screens can separate diners from one another, and from the serving staff too. The place where the final bill is paid should have a protective separator between the staff and the customer. Also, separators between the serving area or open kitchen and customers must be erected to prevent the transference of infected droplets in the air.
When restaurants are required to close to diners but may offer a takeout service, then this must be provided using appropriate safety protocol to keep staff safe from Covid. Face masks, hand sanitizers, and wiping surfaces down is necessary too.
Active Monitoring & Testing at the Premises
Employees can receive temperature monitoring checks upon arriving at the office, warehouse, retail store, or another workplace. Staff performing the testing should always be wearing personal protective equipment to ensure they're not put at additional risk carrying out this necessary task.
Testing using a mobile hand-held device to digitally check for elevated temperatures is a first phase to protect against people who may have an infection but do not yet have other obvious or visible symptoms.
Quarantining staff when they show signs of possible infection is necessary. The company must then arrange to cover their position in their absence which is likely to be at least 14 days.
Safety Meeting with Staff
Many employees will be dismayed by the ongoing situation with Covid-19. They have also received a confusing array of conflicting information in the media over the months that this has unfolded.
It is therefore especially useful to conduct a safety meeting with staff – either virtually or in-person – to establish the risk and the processes set in place to protect them against it. For staff who have previously attended such a meeting, then this will provide some quick reminders. Doing so still has value because it’s easy to know the safety protocols, become accustomed to them, and then get relaxed about them without meaning to.
Re-Opening After a Closure
In a situation where the business was temporarily closed or the premises (office, warehouse, restaurant, store, etc.) shuttered due to Covid-19, there are steps to follow before reopening.
Certainly, to get back up and running, follow the guidance provided by the government on how businesses should proceed. There is a Federal Small Business support option, but assistance is apparently slower to materialize than hoped by many looking for it.
Regardless of what may have been heard, the CDC is a highly knowledgeable agency with a long history of dealing with infectious diseases. Their advice should be followed and can be trusted.
Create a Covid-19 Response Plan
Every business needs to create its own Covid-19 response plan. This is a plan that staff must follow when someone is believed to be infected or is exhibiting symptoms like a high temperature.
The plan must be available throughout the premises and digitally available too. Furthermore, staff must be provided this information and given time to familiarize themselves with it. Not knowing is simply not good enough. Every employee has a duty of care to other staff members and customers, just as much as the company does to them.
Other Health & Safety Concerns
For staff who still work at the business premises rather than virtually, they are still responsible for the other aspects of health and safety. Just because there’s a greater degree of focus and caution surrounding the current virus, people must still stay safe in other respects too.
Therefore, a reminder about basic safety measures such as not running on the premises, cleaning up any spills immediately, not putting tripping hazards on the floor, and other measures remain important to avoid accidents. Hospitals have enough to manage currently - they don’t need unnecessary injuries to handle too.
Improving the workplace and the measures taken to do so has taken a different turn in 2021. Certainly, a range of new steps is necessary to ensure the health and safety of employees (and customers alike). These include temperature checks, social distancing, face masks, hand sanitizers, and others measures. However, general safety at the workplace should not be ignored. That still matters for employees who are on-site and cannot work from home.