By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
After months of lockdown and weeks of uncertainty, businesses are starting to re-open and resume operations. Although firms are beginning to plan their return to the workplace, the battle against COVID-19 is far from over. While restrictions are easing throughout the country, the workforce will need to follow health and safety guidelines to minimize transmission risk. Workplace safety is a big talking point right now. Employers are responsible for creating a safe environment that will help to keep the spread of coronavirus manageable. This article explores the steps you can take to prepare and support a safe return to the workplace.
Lockdown has taken its toll on individuals and businesses. Many people are feeling eager to return to normal, or at least a “new normal.” Since the initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, many individuals have shifted to home working. While it was an essential transition, it has been difficult for some and isn’t an option for the entire population.
According to Gallup Panel data, the percentage of employees working from home out of concern for the coronavirus increased from thirty-one percent in mid-March to forty-nine percent just a few days later. This number then jumped to fifty-nine percent a week later before plateauing at sixty-two percent in mid-April. With a massive shift to home working, many employees are wondering how the new workplace will operate.
As restrictions gradually lift throughout the country, offices and other businesses can get back up and running. With shared areas and facilities and limited space, we need careful planning to put the necessary procedures in place to protect employees and encourage a safe and comfortable work environment.
Everyone has an idea of how a typical workplace looks and feels with a mixture of office cubicles, open plan communal spaces, meeting rooms, and shared facilities. All workspaces are unique, and the coronavirus presents a risk that employers have never had to deal with before.
It’s vital to take steps to minimize the risk of transmission and slow the spread of COVID-19. It’s not just your staff who are at risk but also anyone who enters the building, such as delivery drivers, visiting clients, cleaners, and other tenants.
There are several areas you will need to assess. In order to protect anyone returning to the office, you should consider measures like:
Make sure there are plenty of handwashing facilities to encourage good hygiene and regular washing. Remind employees to wash their hands often, and place hand sanitizing dispensers throughout the building.
Regular hand-washing has become the norm in modern society, and the office is no exception. Keeping your hands clean is one of the most important things you can do to stop getting sick and spreading germs to other people. Washing your hands helps to prevent infection in the first place.
One of the primary symptoms of COVID-19 is an elevated temperature. Some workplaces and businesses have already started to implement body temperature checks on entry. It is possible to have an elevated body temperature when you’re not ill. However, a quick temperature check is a non-invasive and contactless way to minimize risk.
Education is key to mitigating risk and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Communicate ongoing advice via internal communications, and update visitors on any new changes. Use brochures and information signs to remind employees to wash their hands regularly, maintain social distancing, and stick to health and safety procedures.
Medical researchers and physicists from the University of Amsterdam found that small cough droplets can float in the air for a few minutes, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. The results show that proper ventilation is a critical factor in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus.
It’s a good idea to check your current air ventilation and update the system if needed. Ensure the air conditioning or ventilation system is well maintained; otherwise, it could contribute to the spread of the virus. This is because it could be circulating contaminated air instead of cleaning the air properly.
Social distancing is another new norm in our everyday lives. From the grocery store to sitting on public transport, social distancing helps slow down the spread of COVID-19. Safety tips to encourage social distancing include:
The guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings differ from state to state. In general, the CDC recommends that people wear face coverings in public settings. Depending on your workplace and the kind of work you do, there may be different PPE requirements. Where necessary, it’s essential that employees have access to any PPE they need, such as gloves, face masks or coverings, and face shields.
Many businesses have transitioned, practically overnight, to remote working. This is an unprecedented situation, so it’s crucial to be flexible. If home working has been a positive experience with continued productivity, it may be a good idea to continue working remotely.
While some individuals are keen to return to the workplace and resume their standard routine, others may be worried. This is entirely understandable. Although home working is dependent on the type of work you do, offering support and flexibility during this tough time is essential.
COVID-19 has bought unforeseen challenges with companies around the world acting quickly to safeguard employees and minimize transmission. Whether it’s offering staff education on how to strengthen your immune system or implementing temperature checks on arrival, workplace safety requires a ton of planning. In a post-lockdown world, the workplace will need to be COVID-secure for the foreseeable future to manage the spread of infection and protect our communities.