How to implement coronavirus workplace safety guidelines

With many states reopening after forced closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, business owners across the nation are now planning on bringing their employees back to work. And one of the most important factors will be implementing coronavirus workplace safety guidelines. to keep everyone healthy and safe. 

In this article we’ll cover best practices for implementing new workplace safety rules, cleaning and disinfecting guidelines, and how to keep your customers safe. We also included a list of state COVID-19 websites so you can stay up to date on any regulations in your area. 

Workplace safety 

Soon after being sworn in, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety. The order directs OSHA to increase enforcement of existing agency standards and investigate whether a new standard for COVID-19 mitigation is needed. While the order does not provide any new requirements, businesses should consider the new guidelines a strong recommendation.

In a nutshell, OSHA recommends that employers and employees implement a COVID-19 prevention program that includes the following elements:

  • Masks and social distancing
  • A hazard assessment
  • Measures to limit the spread of the virus
  • Ways to identify (and send home) sick employees and policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers for staying home when sick
  • Written policies and procedures in both English and the primary language of non-English speaking workers
  • Protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns

Written protocol 

The most important factor in maintaining workplace safety is to have a clear plan for any cases—or suspected cases. Craft a written protocol and give it to everyone to ensure your team is up to speed on the rules and how they can contribute to a safe workplace. 

Your plan should include the following: 

  • No sick employees should come into work 
  • Establish a required notification procedure for symptomatic employees
  • Designate a point of contact for any COVID-related issues
  • Identify remedial sanitization measures for impacted employees
  • Identify triggering events for quarantine procedure
  • Establish quarantine duration and conditions for return

Social distancing 

Your employees may be back to work, but they should still be distant from each other. Implement social distancing requirements where you can to prevent potential spreading of the virus. 

Social distancing can be staggered shifts, breaks, and spacing between workstations and community areas.

Substitute virtual meetings for in-person meetings whenever possible. Discourage employees from any physical contact with each other, and close off or limit the use of any communal spaces. 

Educate and enable employees 

Make sure your team knows how to conduct proper hygiene to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Here are a few guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 
  • If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home. If possible, maintain 6 feet between the person who is sick and other household members.
  • Put distance between yourself and other people outside of your home. Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.

The CDC also released posters to promote coronavirus workplace safety on hand hygiene and how to help stop the spread of the virus. Place these at the entrance to your workplace, as well as other highly visible areas. 

Enable your employees to practice good hygiene by providing a supply of tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles. And don’t forget soap and water! 

Face masks and other personal protective equipment

Make a decision as to whether or not face masks, gloves, and any other protective equipment will be required or optional for your employees. 

You’ll need to provide or reimburse employees for any required equipment. If PPE is optional, think about guidelines, limitations or restrictions on the type of PPE permitted, as well as any employee-created PPE. 

Note: There are currently seven states—including Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island—that require everyone to wear face masks whenever in public. Be sure to check out your state’s COVID-19 pages (which are listed below) to stay up to date on any laws that go into effect. 

Temperature checks 

Consider implementing temperature checks into your coronavirus workplace safety plan for employees before they enter the workplace and customers who visit your establishment. If you choose to do so, remember that the results of the test are considered a medical record and therefore subject to the same confidentiality and record-keeping requirements. 

You should designate a management-level team member (or a designated team) to handle the tests. The temperature taker should thoroughly review the guidelines laid out by the FDA on COVID-19 thermography devices, as well as the instructions for the thermometer or scanning equipment you are using. 

Employees should be notified clearly in advance about the testing plans, as well as any related implications of a high temperature, such as being sent home. Note: The CDC considers a temperature of at least 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit to be a fever. 

It’s best practice to use a device that does not require any direct contact between the temperature taker. Here are a few options. If you’re unable to purchase a contactless device, the temperature taker should ensure the thermometer is thoroughly cleaned after each use, and should also wear appropriate PPE and change gloves between each test. 

Cleaning and disinfection

A routine and thorough cleaning plan should be in place as part of your coronavirus workplace safety strategy. Consider designating a team of employees to tackle this practice. 

Clean and disinfect all frequently touched objects and surfaces in your workplace. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Workstations
  • Keyboards
  • Telephones 
  • Handrails
  • Doorknobs 
  • Tables 
  • Work tools and equipment

Dirty areas should first be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water. Afterwards, use one of the products approved by the EPA for use against the COVID-19 virus. The list includes the most common household disinfectants. Disposable wipes should also be readily available around the workplace to wipe commonly used surfaces.

Discourage employees from sharing workstations or using other employees’ work tools and equipment, if at all possible. 

If an employee or anyone who has visited your establishment is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, follow the CDC enhanced cleaning and disinfection recommendations

Customer safety 

You may have to change certain procedures and tactics to adapt to social distancing best practices. In fact, certain measures you may have already implemented to stay in operation during forced business closures will still be applicable when your doors are open again. 

These practices include (but are not limited to) offering curbside delivery or drive-through service instead of in-store pickup and conducting virtual services and sales calls. 

When customers are able to enter your facility, you’ll still need to minimize close contact as much as possible. Add plastic barriers to register sites, limit the number of customers in the establishment, and lay out visual markers on floors to indicate six-foot distancing. 

Speaking of limiting your in-store customer count, many states are requiring a capacity limit. For example, retail and restaurant establishments in Texas may only be open if they are operating at up to 25% of the total listed occupancy of the establishment. Even if your state does not require this limit, it’s a good practice to follow. 

Think about your processes that include contact at a front desk/lobby. Do you have forms that need to be completed by a customer? Add the forms to your website so they can be filled out beforehand to reduce the time spent in your facility. 

Does your payment process require too much contact? Consider contactless payment options such as Apple Pay or self-checkout kiosks. 

State requirements 

The status of forced closures and re-opening dates are changing rapidly across the nation, and many states are implementing their own specific health and safety requirements. We compiled a list of COVID-19 webpages for each state so you can keep an eye on any coronavirus workplace safety requirements in your area. Find your state below and bookmark the site to stay on top of updates. 

New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

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