NJM Blog

Tips for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

Tips for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted how individuals and businesses across all industries operate. Though the pandemic has not yet subsided, shelter–in–place orders are being lifted in many states and businesses are beginning to reopen their doors. To limit the spread of the virus, employers must be prepared to enforce new safety precautions in the workplace.

The following from OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 and the CDC’s business and workplace resource center are among the measures business leaders should consider implementing. However, it is important to follow the CDC and World Health Organization for the latest news and developments since experts’ understanding of the virus is rapidly changing.

  • Have an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan. This type of plan should follow guidance from local, state, and federal health agencies and consider risk factors for each worker and worksite’s potential exposure to disease. A response plan also addresses the effects of a disease breakout, such as increased absenteeism, risk–reduction measures, cross training, and altered supply chains.

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. All employees should be trained to recognize signs and symptoms of the virus and self–monitor for them. Employees who have symptoms of COVID–19 should notify their supervisor and stay home. Employees should not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers. Policies and procedures should be in place for moving potentially infectious employees, customers, or guests away from others; providing those individuals with a face mask; and restricting access to isolation areas, if used.

  • Establish a no–visitor policy. If possible, implement a no–visitor policy in the workplace until local health officials have lifted all social distancing rules. If this is not feasible, limit the number of visitors allowed in the building and offer alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol upon arrival.

  • Stagger work shifts. Strategically stagger worker shifts and allow telecommuting, if possible, so that there are fewer people in the building at any given time. Additionally, revisit seating arrangements to keep employees separated from each other and customers.

  • Maintain at least six feet of distance between employees. According to the CDC, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person–to–person contact, so keeping six feet of space between people is one of the best ways to prevent it from spreading. Employers should consider putting markers on the floor wherever there is the potential for a line to form so that people know where to stand. If there are elevators in the building, limit the number of people allowed in at a time based on local health officials’ guidelines. Prohibit handshaking, hugs, and fist bumps.

  • Continuously disinfect all surfaces. All frequently–touched surfaces — tables, doorknobs and handles, light switches, countertops, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, etc. — should be routinely cleaned and disinfected. Janitorial staff should wear reusable or disposable gloves while cleaning surfaces with soap and water and disinfecting with an EPA–registered disinfectant. Consider hanging checklists outside of shared spaces like bathrooms and kitchens so employees and janitorial staff can mark when the areas were last cleaned. Require workers to properly clean and disinfect temporary workspaces before leaving for the day, especially if a different employee is scheduled to work in the same space the next day.

  • Install sanitation stations. Provide employees, contractors, and visitors with a place to wash their hands with soap and running water. Where handwashing is not feasible or employees themselves are responsible for wiping down surfaces, install sanitation stations with automatic hand sanitizer dispensers, alcohol-based wipes (with at least 60% alcohol), and a trash can for discarding used wipes.

  • Provide face masks for employees. Asymptomatic coronavirus patients can unknowingly spread the virus, which has prompted many businesses to require that employees and guests wear masks or face coverings as a precaution. Wearing a face mask helps to protect the people around the wearer. Consider requiring employees to wear face masks at work, and provide any personal protective equipment employees may need to do their jobs safely.

  • Post signs and reminders at entrances and in strategic places providing instruction on proper hand hygiene, COVID–19 symptoms, and cough and sneeze etiquette. This should include signs for non–English speakers, as needed.

To ensure that employees are properly following health and safety protocols, employers should consider appointing a workplace safety or a social distancing officer who monitors day–to–day activity and reports to management weekly. Also consider implementing regular check–ins with individual team members to gauge whether they feel the measures are being followed; this can also be used as an opportunity to discuss any improvements that can be made to best promote social distancing.

In addition to implementing these social distancing measures, employers should also consult the CDC’s Resuming Business Toolkit, which is designed to help employers determine if they are ready to reopen and what protective measures are needed based on the services they offer.