Amid the coronavirus pandemic, employers are responsible for protecting their workers from contracting or spreading the virus at work.
Although it may seem like an impossible task, there are concrete steps employers can take to minimize risk, slow the coronavirus spread and help everyone practice smart safety precautions.
Protecting your employees starts with gathering basic information on the coronavirus, how it spreads and common symptoms.
COVID-19, a respiratory illness caused by a new type of coronavirus, spreads between people in close contact. It spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even talks.
These droplets can be inhaled into the lungs and cause infection — or, less commonly, spread through share surfaces where they are touched and carried to one's mucous membranes (e.g., eyes, nose), causing infection.
Common symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
However, a significant amount of transmission happens when infected people are asymptomatic or only mild symptoms. Thus, routine precautions are essential for all employees, not just reserved for employees with known exposures or symptoms.
Consider providing virtual training and pamphlets to educate employees on necessary precautions, including mask-wearing and maintaining six feet of distance from others.
The CDC offers free resources, such as videos, fact sheets and posters.
Some workers have a higher risk of infection., including public-facing workers in healthcare, hospitality and retail, airline operations and waste management. Consult the CDC for information and resources for specific occupations and types of workplace environments.
Encourage employees to pay attention to their health and stay home if they experience any symptoms of COVID-19 or suspect that within the previous ten days, they have been directly exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Should an employee show up for work with symptoms, make sure to send them home immediately and assess the exposure and risk of the coronavirus spreading to your staff and customers.
Ensure that your sick leave policy is flexible and consistent with guidance from public health authorities.
The CDC does not recommend requiring a doctor's note for requesting sick time during the pandemic, as healthcare providers are too busy to offer timely documentation.
Encourage your employees to wear masks at all times. Protective face masks should cover both the mouth and nose.
Employees should make sure their masks don't slip off their nose and also wash their hands frequently. When washing hands, they should use soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
If employees don't have access to soap and water for some reason, they should use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If they use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (rather than soap), instruct them to cover all the surfaces of their hands with the sanitizer and rub them together until they feel dry.
In addition to providing tissues throughout your workplace, encourage employees to use a tissue to cover their coughs or sneezes and then throw the tissue away and wash their hands.
As mentioned above, employees should at all times wear masks that cover their mouth and nose. So, they will cough or sneeze into their mask, but using a tissue can also help limit the spread of any viral aerosol caught by their mask.
If an employee is sneezing or coughing repeatedly, consider instructing them to go home and follow guidance related to evaluating and managing potential Covid-19.
It would help if you supplied hand sanitizer to workers for use at job sites where they can't wash their hands immediately.
Instruct employees not to touch their eyes, nose and/or mouth with unwashed hands and avoid contact with sick people.
It's vital to comply with social distancing orders, making sure your employees use barriers (e.g. plexiglass) or can work without obstacles at a distance of at least six feet apart from other people.
Instruct your employees to avoid shared equipment, including phones, keyboards and headsets, and clean common surfaces between shifts or employee usage.
Ensure you train your cleaning staff on proper safety procedures and provide them with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
It's natural for people to feel anxious during a time filled with uncertainty.
To help reduce your employees' fears, work on speaking to them calmly and directly from a place of fact and reason, rather than rumors, blame, or paranoia.
Be transparent about your efforts to keep your employees safe and actively listen to their concerns and questions.
You can also help employees manage their stress by offering workplace resources and assistance.
To stay up to date on the latest national, workplace, and Colorado-specific coronavirus news and safety recommendations, follow the Centers for Disease Control, OSHA and Colorado Department of Public Health.
Did you know that Pinnacol is happy to provide a free virtual safety consultation to any interested Colorado business, regardless of whether it is a Pinnacol customer?