Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is impacting every industry and business across the world. As a result, many workplaces are being forced to change policies and searching for the best methods to keep their business running smoothly during COVID-19 outbreaks. National Safety Compliance has formatted the Occupational Safety and Health Associations recommendations into a handy booklet titled OSHA: Preparing Workplaces For COVID-19 for easy use by business owners and trainers.
Some businesses are affected by the interruption of supplies and deliveries from other geographic areas, while others are experiencing absenteeism as many workers are home sick, caring for loved ones, or unable to work due to being at-risk or fearful of potential exposure. Most are seeing a change in patterns of commerce as consumer interest increases in items used for infection prevention and shopping habits change to reduce person-to-person contact.
While it is not possible to entirely stop these consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers can reduce the effect it has on their business, workers, customers, and the public by planning and preparing for traditional infection prevention and industrial hygiene practices. They can do so by implementing engineering, administration, personal protective equipment (PPE), and work practice controls. Giving employees COVID-19 safety training and implementing COVID safe work practices can significantly reduce the impact and spread of COVID in your workplace.
These methods may change as new information becomes available. COVID-19 outbreak conditions change and evolve, making it vital that employers keep up with new information on the transmission and impacts of the virus. They should consistently be mindful of potential risks in the workplace and any new control measures to enforce.
Employers should continually remind themselves and others to stay home from work if symptoms of COVID-19 appear. These symptoms include cough, fever, and shortness of breath and they will appear between 2 and 14 days after exposure. Employers cannot rely on symptoms alone, as many people are asymptomatic, meaning they experience no symptoms at all.
People are most contagious when their symptoms are at their worst, but it is possible for the virus to spread before any symptoms show. It is thought to spread mainly from people in close contact with one another through respiratory droplets that are inhaled or land in another’s mouth or nose.
How Employers Can Reduce Workers’ Risk of Exposure
To reduce the risk of exposure, follow these basic steps:
- Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan:
Develop a guide on protective actions against COVID-19 that incorporates recommendations from state and local health agencies. This should address the need for social distancing, exposure-reducing measures, and controls necessary to address those risks.
- Prepare to Implement Basic Infection Prevention Measures:
This should place an emphasis on employers enforcing basic infection prevention and implementing good hygiene and infection control practices. This includes encouraging workers to stay home when sick, practicing frequent disinfection, respiratory etiquette, and not using others’ workspaces.
- Develop Policies and Procedures for Prompt Identification and Isolation of Sick:
Employers should inform on symptoms and develop policies for employees to self-monitor for symptoms. Any confirmed cases of the virus should be isolated from the worksite and their workspace should be marked off with a temporary barrier.
- Develop, Implement, and Communicate about Workplace Flexibilities and Protections:
Encourage employees to stay home when sick by allowing leave policies to be flexible, developing non-punitive leave policies, and not requiring a note from a healthcare provider. This also includes being understanding about workers taking care of sick family members, being aware of their health and safety concerns, and working with insurance companies on providing information about medical care in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
- Implement Workplace Controls:
To eliminate the hazards a combination of control measures including engineering controls, administrative controls, and safe work practices is necessary to effectively protect workers from exposure.
Different Forms of Control:
- Engineering Controls: Isolate employees from work-related hazards where appropriate to avoid relying on worker behavior. These can include high-efficiency air filters, ventilation rates, and physical barriers.
- Administrative Controls: This includes any changes in workplace policy and procedures that reduce exposure to a hazard like minimizing contact, establishing alternating shifts, and providing workers with up-to-date training and education on COVID-19.
- Safe Work Practices: Administrative control that include procedures for safe and proper work to reduce the duration and frequency of exposure to a hazard by providing resources on personal hygiene, requiring regular handwashing, and supplying disinfectants. This can also be done with Coronavirus awareness training and awareness classes to further educate your employees on COVID-19 safety.
- Personal Protective Equipment: PPE like gloves, goggles, face shields, and masks should be used in addition to, rather than in place of, the above workplace controls to prevent certain exposures. Make sure to provide PPE Safety Training if needed.
Classifications of Exposure
Worker risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19 is classified into very high, high, medium, or lower (caution) risk. The risk level is determined by the industries’ need for workers to be within 6 feet of someone suspected of being infected.
This helps employers determine the appropriate precautions for their workplace depending on which category they fall into.
- Very High Exposure Risk:
These employees have the highest potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19. This can include healthcare workers performing procedures on COVID-19 patients, laboratory personnel collecting specimens from patients, or morgue workers performing autopsies on the bodies of those known to have COVID-19 at the time of their death. Employers for very high exposure risk jobs should require all forms of engineering controls, administrative controls, and all safe work practices available, as well as all PPE including respirators.
- High Exposure Risk:
These employees are at a high risk of exposure because they are in direct contact with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19. This includes those working with COVID-19 patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and emergency response facilities. Employers of high exposure risk workers should follow the same guidelines as those given to very high exposure risk, though this is only a recommendation instead of a requirement.
- Medium Exposure Risk:
These are people in a workforce who are required to be in close contact with other people who may be exposed including their co-workers. This includes places with ongoing community transmission, travel, and contact with the public in settings like schools, food processing, and high-volume retail centers. Employers for medium risk exposure workers should install physical barriers like sneeze guards, offer face masks to employees and customers, keep informed on symptoms of COVID-19 and not allow anyone experiencing those symptoms in the workplace, limit public access to only certain places, minimize face-to-face contact and select a combination of PPE to protect workers specific to their workplace.
- Low Risk (Caution):
The majority of American’s make up this category with jobs that don’t require any contact with the public or any suspected of being infected, in addition, this means minimal contact with coworkers and the public. Employers for workers within this category should follow safety protocols and basic steps to reduce the risk of exposure and they are not recommended to require any additional engineering control or PPE other than what is required by the CDC and state and local laws.
Employees Living or Travelling Abroad
Businesses with employees traveling internationally or living abroad take on a different set of risks not associated with any one level. To combat these risks, employers should communicate to workers abroad that travel into or out of a country may not be possible or medically advisable due to COVID-19 outbreak conditions.
Employees abroad also need to be aware that the U.S. Department of State (DOS) cannot provide Americans traveling or living abroad with medications or supplies. It is likely that governments will respond to an outbreak by imposing public health measures that restrict domestic and international movement, meaning that the U.S. government’s ability to assist Americans in these countries would be even more limited.
For more information to further educate yourself on international travel during an outbreak, consult the section of OSHA’s website on “Business Travelers”, consult CDC travel warnings, and DOS travel advisories.
Assistance and Services
Staying informed on the latest developments and recommendations is critical for employees because specific guidance may change based on new information that arises. Follow federal, state, and local government agencies for communication on guidelines that apply to you in your area.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers have the responsibility to provide safe work environments for their employees. OSHA helps ensure that health and safety standards are enforced for all of America’s working men and women by setting proper guidelines and providing training, education, and assistance.
Additional OSHA Services:
- Compliance Assistance Specialists: They work to provide information to employers on OSHA standards with educational programs and information on compliance assistance resources.
- No-Cost On-Site Safety and Health Consultation Services for Small Business: Offer confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses with priority to high-hazard worksites.
- Cooperative Programs: Allows businesses and labor groups to work cooperatively with OSHA.
- Strategic Partnerships and Alliances: Provides a chance for OSHA to partner with employers, associations, labor organizations, and others to develop tools and resources to share with workers to educate on their rights and responsibilities.
- Voluntary Protection Programs: The VPP recognizes those who have effectively implemented safety and health programs in the private sector and federal agencies.
- Occupational Safety and Health Training: Delivers courses on OSHA standards and health and safety topics to students.
- OSHA Educational Materials: OSHA has many materials to assist workers in finding and preventing any hazards including QuickTakes, newsletters, and publications.
To help further educate your employees, National Safety Compliance offers health and safety posters on 5 steps to stop COVID-19 spread, hand washing, respirator safe use, protecting yourself and others, answering novel coronavirus questions, and determining the difference between social distancing, quarantine, and isolation.
Order our booklet Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 for a complete outline of everything you need to know about keeping your employees and workplace safe, efficient, and compliant according to current OSHA guidelines. These low-cost booklets will receive an automatic bulk discount in your cart when you buy 10 or more.
As mentioned earlier, we also have an Infectious Disease Training Program to help employers train for COVID-19 and future pandemics, which was newly created for Summer 2020. This program is available on DVD, USB, or via Instant Digital Access. It includes a trainer’s guide, compliance manual, PowerPoint presentation, employees quizzes, answer keys, supplemental documents, completion certificates, and wallet cards. These documents are all in digital form, so employers can print them for as many employees as they need at no additional costs.
National Safety Compliance is dedicated to helping employers identify and amend any job hazards to improve their safety and health programs. Our safety training programs are designed to help employers comply with their responsibilities under OSHA regulations and substantially reduce the number and severity of workplace illnesses. If you have any questions, please call us a 877-992-7233, reach us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment below.