OSHA and the CDC have each recently issued new guidance for employers as more and more employees make their way back to on-site work following the COVID-19 shutdown. Here are a few tips to consider to ensure that you are providing a safe and healthy workspace.
First, check the building facilities to ensure that they are ready for employees to return (especially if the building has been vacant for the past few months). This includes ensuring that ventilation and air conditioning systems are operating properly. You should also take steps (if it won’t create other safety or operational risks) to increase outside air circulation by opening windows and doors and by utilizing fans.
Second, identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 while at the workplace. Conduct a hazard assessment (both the CDC and OSHA have specific guidance on how to do this) to identify potential hazards that might increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. This involves considering all tasks performed by employees to determine which tasks potentially involve heightened exposure to COVID-19. Identify all work areas, such as common areas, hallways, and break rooms, where employees might not be able to maintain social distancing. Include all employees in communication plans regarding the re-opening of the office, so that everyone understands and has been trained regarding the precautions being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Third, develop engineering and administrative controls to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among employees. Engineering controls help isolate employees from the hazards of COVID-19 and could include modifying the placement of furniture or workstations to maintain six feet between employees or installing shields or other physical barriers where social distancing is not possible (such as in reception areas). Consider using signs or other visual cues to remind employees and visitors to maintain social distancing in high traffic areas. If you have a breakroom, consider using pre-packaged, single-serve items rather than traditional coffee pots and water coolers.
Administrative controls change the way in which people work and could include regularly reminding employees that if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have a sick family member at home, they should notify their supervisor and stay home. If an employee appears to have symptoms while at work, immediately separate him from others—send him home with instructions to follow-up with his healthcare professional. You may want to perform daily health checks of employees (either in person or virtual) before they enter the workplace. Think about whether to stagger shifts and break times to reduce the number of employees in common areas at a given time. Post signs around the office reminding employees and visitors of best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If jobs can be done remotely and effectively, telework opportunities could continue to help fight the transmission of COVID-19 and protect workers who may be at higher risk.
While the way we interact in the workplace may look different as we continue to fight the spread of COVID-19, it does not have to affect the workplace culture that you have worked so hard to build.