Employee Safety During COVID-19 | PART 1: Physical Distancing
Updated: Mar 17
COVID-19 isn't going away any time soon. In fact, many experts predict an uptick in cases this winter. Although much is still unknown about combating COVID-19, it is clear that businesses should consider several basic courses of action in preparing, implementing, and managing an employee safety plan.
One key approach for keeping employees safe is to implement physical-distancing policies, which have been proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce exposure to Covid-19. What does this look like? Ideally, it entails enforcing a distance of at least six feet between all workers, customers, and visitors at all times.
Depending on the workplace, this may be challenging; offices and facilities simply may not have room for employees to be adequately separated if business resumes as usual. Companies may need to evaluate creative strategies involving shift design, alternating days in the office, and/or rethinking the layout and design of the workplace. Organizations will have to tailor policies to their specific work environment, balancing the need for six-foot distancing between individuals with the maintenance of day-to-day operations.
Key factors to consider include:
Transportation. Remind colleagues to be careful and vigilant while using mass transit. Consider implementing commuting guidelines specific to each location. Encourage off-peak commuting.
Public surfaces. If possible, introduce automation/voice recognition technologies that eliminate touching of surfaces such as light switches, shared equipment like printers, and elevator buttons. Where hands-free technologies are not practical, it might make sense to instruct employees to use an elbow, paper towel, tissue, or disposable glove on common surfaces. It is also a good idea to place hand-sanitizer dispensers in common areas, and to encourage staff to use sanitizer or wash their hands after contact with switches and buttons. Regularly sanitizing those surfaces is also key.
Doors. Where doors can be kept open without compromising security or privacy, make open doors or touchless doors the standard corporate policy. This practice will limit employee contact with handles, as well as reducing congestion in hallways and passageways.
Elevators. Consider establishing elevator-capacity guidelines, such as a maximum of four passengers, based on the size and layout of the elevators.
Wait lines. Where employees normally tend to stand in lines, seek alternatives that do not require them to congregate. For example, consider asking supervisors to record the presence of employees, rather than using time clocks, for the foreseeable future. If it is not possible to redesign such processes, consider putting markers on the floor or wall to designate minimum distances for physical separation.
Workstation redesign. Consider redesigning workstations to avoid, or at least reduce, contact between employees. In a production environment, consider relocating equipment or installing clear barriers between workers if they cannot be located six feet apart. If such approaches aren’t practical, consider providing personal protective equipment (PPE)—such as N95 respirators or surgical masks and gloves—and training employees to safely use those tools. Additional deep cleaning may also be required.
Face masks. Follow federal, state, and local government requirements regarding the use of face masks and other PPE in the workplace. However, managers may also want to consider whether utilizing certain types of PPE, such as N95 masks, would have the effect of depleting the supplies available to those who may have a greater need for maximum virus protection. Some organizations might opt to purchase a different kind of face covering if a shortage of N95 masks would deprive front-line healthcare workers of access to them.
Meetings. Consider designating videoconferencing as the preferred method of meeting. Another option is to limit in-person meetings to a predefined maximum number of employees, unless senior management grants an exception. It might help to reduce the number of chairs in conference rooms, to reduce the likelihood that anyone will violate physical distancing rules. For the foreseeable future, optimizing physical distancing will be the best practice in scenarios where multiple employees gather. For instance, an organization might hold team huddles outdoors or in large spaces in which one person can be seated at each table.
Breaks. Consider requesting that employees eat at their workstations, or while otherwise physically separated from one another. If feasible, suggest that they bring their lunches, or implement grab-and-go cafeteria services. Limit access to common areas where food is available, and consider placing sanitizing wipes near any vending machines. Also, consider staggering breaks, and enhance plans to sanitize common break areas between sittings. Establish guidelines for visiting neighboring businesses during breaks, including coffee shops and restaurants.
Signage. Employers may choose to develop and place signage in shared workspaces to remind employees of expectations around physical distancing and hand washing.
Employers also need to step up cleaning and hygiene procedures, which can help employees and customers feel safe. As some employees will likely be uncomfortable about returning to the workplace, procedures need to be transparent, visible, and regularly audited.
The Boss Insurance Group is committed to helping our customers keep their employees safe. If you have any questions, contact your Boss Insurance Group insurance advisor.
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