Stopping Covid-19 Spread: Implement These Workplace Controls
Organizations around the world are preparing for the eventual return of their employees to work. Many organizations have resumed operations already. After all, we cannot suspend commercial activities indefinitely.
According to health experts, the majority of people infected by COVID-19 are asymptomatic.
Just one asymptomatic worker in the workplace can prove to be a silent carrier of the novel Coronavirus and potentially infect dozens of others within a day if necessary controls are not in place.
Therefore, when you finally decide to have your employees return to work, it’s important to plan and implement various controls to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Prioritizing employee health during the ongoing pandemic is among the top HR lessons learned by organizations worldwide.
The workplace controls described here in this post can be used to control person-to-person as well as the surface-to-person spread of COVID-19 within a workplace. All of these control methods are within the guidelines of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
This is the most effective control method.
But it isn’t always possible to completely eliminate exposure to a hazard such as COVID-19. For instance, it isn’t possible to permanently or conclusively remove COVID-19, once it enters an office building or manufacturing facility.
As part of the elimination control method, many companies have over the last few months moved their employees to work-from-home schedules. But, you cannot always have your entire workforce work from home to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.
For most businesses, such as restaurants, repair shops, manufacturing units, service centers, etc., remote work is not an option.
You can temporarily close your business, downsize operations, and if feasible, ask some of your employees to work from home. Keep in mind that you will need to support your work-from-home team.
It is also important to ask individuals who are at high risk of developing severe illness due to COVID-19 to either work from home or remain on leave.
Such control methods work by replacing a hazard – whether an object or environment – with something less risky.
You can, for instance, replace the shared work environment where workers interacted with each other or worked together on a regular basis.
Engineering controls can help stop the spread of COVID-19 without having to rely on employee behavior. Implementing engineering controls is one of the most practical and cost-effective ways to minimize your workers’ exposure to COVID-19.
Fundamentally, such control methods involve isolating workers from a hazard.
Depending upon the design and type of the facility or workplace you have, various engineering controls for COVID-19 are:
- Install physical barriers such as transparent plastic sheets or sneeze guards between work desks or cubicles; such temporary barriers can be placed in all areas in the workplace where workers are likely to come face-to-face for an extended duration of time
- Setup a drive-through window for servicing customers
- Use high-efficiency air filters in the workplace; investigate existing air-filters before your employees return to work; if necessary, consider upgrading them
- Raise ventilation rates in areas where several employees are likely to be present whether it’s a corporate office or a manufacturing unit
- Remove community amenities such as common rooms, community sitting area, break rooms, lunch halls, snack plates, teacups, etc.
These controls require specific actions either by the employee or employer. Generally, such control methods for preventing COVID-19 involve changes in work procedures or policy changes to minimize exposure to the virus. Implementing such controls is likely to be one of the common ways HR departments respond to the ongoing crisis.
Some of the most common examples of administrative controls for COVID-19 include:
- Maintain social distance (at least six feet) in the workplace
- Draw floor markings in customer service areas to promote social distancing
- Ask sick employees to stay at home; encourage them to inform their supervisors if someone in their family is sick or has tested positive for COVID-19
- Minimize gatherings in the workplace to reduce the possibility of respiratory transmission of COVID-19; substitute face-to-face meetings with virtual meetings to minimize contact between employees, clients, vendors, and suppliers
- Prepare emergency communication plans and create dedicated helpline for employees to raise concerns about their safety or seek help if required; businesses should be keen to help employees cope during the ongoing crisis.
- Educate workers on how to protect oneself from COVID-19 through hand and respiratory hygiene through email campaigns
- Train workers on how to correctly use gloves and masks
- Disinfect high-touch surfaces such as countertops, tables, phones, doorknobs, stair handrails, elevator buttons, etc. frequently on a daily basis with EPA-approved disinfectants; researchers say the novel Coronavirus can remain active on such inorganic surfaces for up to three days
- Provide soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs (with at least 70% concentration of ethyl alcohol, as recommended by the CDC) in the workplace to promote hand hygiene
Develop a Policy for Identifying and Isolating Suspected Cases
Despite these workplace controls, it is possible exposure to COVID-19 would occur. On such occasions, it is important to quickly identify and isolate potentially infected workers.
It is the critical first step you can take towards protecting workers, vendors, visitors, and other people at the worksite. You can either move potentially infected individuals to isolation rooms or ask them to self-quarantine at home.
You can ask such workers to wear a mask to reduce the spread of their infectious respiratory secretions. In most workplaces, isolated workers would need to be asked to leave the worksite at the earliest.
Screen All Visitors
Besides implementing elimination, substitution, engineering, and administrative controls, organizations also need to control access to their operations by external parties such as vendors, suppliers, delivery personnel, truck drivers, maintenance/service technicians, etc.
Do keep in mind that some of these workplace controls cannot be implemented in all situations. But, these control methods are recognized by organizations directly involved in either protecting workers or stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Due to the wide number of different scenarios, the possibility of community transmission, employee populations, office/work-site designs, local labor laws, public health advisories, and government restrictions, it may not be possible to practice each workplace control described above.