States across the country have begun moving through reopening phases amid the coronavirus pandemic, and many businesses that were previously closed, or had employees working off-site, are transitioning back to somewhat normal business operations.
Guidance on reopening businesses has been issued by government-level health and safety organizations, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Even cities and counties nationwide are issuing ordinances and enforcement policies of their own to keep their communities safe.
In an effort to get employees back on track efficiently and safely, company policies and practices related to reopening should keep both the physical and mental health and wellbeing of their employees and customers at the forefront of their strategy.
Read on to learn about health and safety guidance and best practices for reopening your business.
Physical contact, interaction, and the risk associated with COVID-19 varies from industry to individual job role. Before reopening your establishment and inviting employees to return, be sure to assess the hazards of your business’ environment related to the coronavirus. By developing a clear understanding of your employees’ roles and their daily risk while at work, you can create a thoughtful reopening and operating plan.
Evaluate the roles within your organization, the daily tasks that each member must complete, and the overall health and wellbeing of your employees. While completing a hazard assessment, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Is it critical for all employees to report back to an office to complete their work?
- How easy it is for your employees to social distance from one another while at work?
- Are my employees at higher risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19 due to the nature of our business (i.e., do they interact regularly with one another and customers)?
Maintaining a clean workplace, in addition to promoting good hygiene among employees, is critical for keeping employees safe while reopening your business. Make it easy for your company to stay hygienic – encourage frequent and proper handwashing, and provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and cleaning wipes for their workspaces. Consider offering your employees face masks of their own.
If your business is open to the public, there are additional hazards to hygiene. Make your customers feel comfortable by leaving a hand sanitizing station at the door and encourage use upon entering. Think about enforcing a mask-wearing policy among workers and patrons, if your state or county has not implemented a mandate.
Be sure to identify high-touch surfaces in your establishment, and clean them regularly. Encourage employees to use safety techniques when in contact with these touchpoints. For example, promote using paper towels to open bathroom doors, and provide a trashcan nearby to toss the towel easily. If your company has a coffee station in the kitchen, encourage employees to bring and use their own mugs to avoid touching the tower of disposable cups, and passing their germs to the next coffee-cup grabber. Discourage communal shared food and potlucks where germs can be transferred easily.
It may be helpful to hang signs in breakrooms, gathering spots, and restrooms listing hygiene best practices. If you see an employee practicing poor hygiene, say something. Of course, there’s no need to embarrass anyone, but a gentle reminder can help curb the behavior. It’s common knowledge to sneeze into a tissue and wash your hands afterward, but you’d be surprised how many don’t follow these healthy hygienic practices. During this pandemic, it’s vitally important that we hold one another accountable.
Whether you’re collaborating in a conference room or making coffee in the kitchen, many work environments demand that employees share tight quarters. When assessing your business’ risk, think about the setup of your workplace and evaluate the proximity employees are to one another. For those in an office setting, do you have an open or shared workspace? If so, think about rearranging the area to comply with the 6-foot social distancing recommendation.
If your business is a restaurant or an establishment open to the public, promote social distancing among customers by rearranging seating. Set ground markers 6-feet apart for those waiting in line, and directional markings to help with traffic flow.
In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, some companies are implementing a contact tracing policy. Contact tracing is a disease control strategy. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 alert those they’ve been in contact with so that they can take precautionary measures. In the workplace, employers are taking proactive steps, asking staff to track who they are in contact with at work. If an employee tests positive for the coronavirus, employers will immediately know which employees have risked exposure, and can act quickly to get ahead of the spread.
Encourage your employees to monitor and track the individuals they come in contact with daily. Employers should be aware that records of contract tracing must be kept separate from other HR documents and remain confidential. If an employee does test positive for COVID-19, coworkers have the right to know they may have been exposed to the virus. However, the identity of the infected employee, unless they choose otherwise, must remain confidential.
Training and Resources
While returning to work during COVID-19, be sure to provide employees with resources and training to keep themselves and others safe. Many companies are finding room in their budget for supplies, like additional hand sanitizing stations, masks for employees, and even plexiglass dividers.
Providing resources, like plexiglass sneeze guards and company-wide mask mandates, makes it easier for employees to stay safe while doing their work, but educating and training employees about coronavirus is just as important. Here are some key topics for consistent education:
- Proper hygiene
- Signs and symptoms related to coronavirus
- Information on asymptomatic transmission
- Importance of mask-wearing and social distancing
- Risk factors associated with COVID-19
Although physical safety is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19, don’t underestimate the mental impact this pandemic may have on your employees. With so much uncertainty, increasing case numbers, and polarized viewpoints, your employees may need an extra focus on their mental health, too. To assist your employees during this time, try providing resources, like mental health webinars and online meditation, mindfulness workshops, and promoting your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if you have one.
While guiding your organization through the coronavirus pandemic, keep in mind that we’re all new to this – no company has experienced anything quite like this in recent times. Many states across the U.S. have already seen spikes in the number of coronavirus cases since reopening. So, although many business owners and employees alike may be itching to get back to “normal,” it’s essential for employers to keep the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees at the very top of their priority list.
For additional guidance related to COVID-19, follow our updates on Frankcrum.com/corona-virus-updates