Returning to work safely is a major concern for many employers and employees dealing with the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the start of the pandemic, most non-essential businesses have been shut down around the United States leaving millions of businesses without a source of income and employees out of a job.
Now that the cases of coronavirus are on a decline in many parts of the U.S., businesses are starting to reopen and employees are returning to work. However, the workplace will not be the same environment as before the pandemic; instead, businesses will have to practice certain safety protocols to avoid further illnesses and keep their staff protected.
Continue Social Distancing
Returning to work does not give you the green light to get close to other people again. Social distancing should continue even after businesses resume normal operations. This means giving other people in the workplace adequate space to perform their job duties, ideally six-feet or more. Businesses should also limit the number of people in small areas, such as restrooms, break rooms, and other common areas where employees gather. Other social distancing techniques can be used in the workplace, such as a system for one-way pedestrian traffic patterns.
Masks are still required to be worn by employees in many areas of the U.S. Face masks that cover the mouth and nose can help reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially when used in combination with social distancing practices. There are different types of masks and not all offer the same level of protection. Cloth and surgical masks are the most commonly worn masks as they are the most accessible by the general public. These masks create a barrier against large droplets that come from a person’s sneeze or cough. N95 respirator masks can filter out up to 95 percent of the smallest particles in the air but are typically reserved for higher-risk positions, such as doctors and nurses.
Wash Hands Frequently
Handwashing is a fast and easy way to help keep yourself safe when you return to work. Proper handwashing techniques not only reduce the spread of COVID-19, but can also help prevent the spread of other common illnesses, such as the cold and flu. You should wash your hands after returning from a public outing, before leaving the bathroom, after shaking hands, after blowing your nose, after touching garbage, and after touching public tables, countertops, computers, and other surfaces. In addition, you should wash your hands before, during, and after preparing food.
Monitor for Symptoms
The coronavirus affects people in a variety of ways. Those who have been infected have experienced a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. The most common symptoms that typically appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus include cough, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, muscle pain, chills, and loss of taste or smell. In some cases, the symptoms of COVID-19 can become severe. If you begin experiencing more serious signs of the virus, such as trouble breathing, new confusion, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, blush face or lips, or an inability to stay awake, it is important to see emergency medical care immediately.
If you do develop symptoms that you believe may be associated with COVID-19, it is important to stay home from work and self-quarantine. Self-isolating means staying away from other people, including your family and co-workers. Do not use public transportation, rideshares, or taxis. In addition, do not have any visitors and stay away from people that suffer from chronic medical conditions. Make sure that your room has proper airflow, such as open windows and that you practice good hygiene. Cover your coughs and sneezes and wear a mask if you must leave your house to see a doctor.
Clean and Disinfect Surfaces Frequently
Cleaning and disinfecting routines in the workplace can go a long way towards reducing or eliminating the risk of contracting COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have published detailed instructions on how to properly clean and disinfect surfaces in the workplace. Some key points mentioned include using disposable gloves, masks, and gowns during cleaning, using a detergent or soap solution that can remove COVID-19 particles, and disinfecting with EPA-approved solutions, such as a bleach and water mixture. High-touch surfaces, as well as shared electronics, should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
Restrict Sharing of Food
The coronavirus can be spread through a variety of means, including through food sharing. Whenever possible, limit food sharing to prevent the spread of viral illnesses. Ideally, you should pack your own lunch or purchase food from a restaurant with strict hygiene practices. Avoid using community food and beverage sources, such as shared fruit bowls or pitchers of water. Instead, bring your own prepackaged snacks and beverages and keep them in an area where others will not touch them to avoid the spread of germs.
Offer Employees Sick Leave
After a long period of financial distress and uncertainty, many employees are ready to get back to work; however, returning to work should not put others in danger. By offering employees sufficient sick leave, employers can reduce the likelihood of an employee coming to work ill. It is important for businesses to make it clear that workers who show symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home rather than go to work and risk spreading the potential illness to others. Offering paid sick leave will encourage workers to remain home while they are sick without having to lose pay.
Talk to the Benefits Experts for Comprehensive Planning
As more businesses continue to reopen after weeks of being closed or short-staffed, workplaces will have to adjust accordingly. This means taking extra precautions to keep employees and customers healthy, keeping surfaces cleaned and disinfected, practicing good hygiene, and providing workers with the benefits they need to remain healthy and financially stable. For more information about planning for workplace safety, reach out to the benefits experts at the Business Benefits Group.