For months, the world has been battling the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Needless to say, the virus and the disease it causes has affected the world in different significant ways. There has been total or partial lockdown in most countries of the world, with many businesses coming to a halt while preparing workplaces for COVID-19.
After months of closing down business activities to maintain the stay-at-home and social distancing orders, business owners are preparing to go back to their workplaces as there are hints or relaxation of the strict orders. Since there is neither a confirmed cure nor vaccine for the virus, business owners and managers must prepare the workplaces for COVID-19.
The need for a Safe Workplace
The need for a safe workplace cannot be overemphasized. No economic gain can be compared to human life. Management needs to prepare workplaces to be safe for the workers as well as customers/clients of the business. Here, we will discuss a viable guideline on preparing the workplace for COVID-19.
A Good Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan
You need a good infectious disease preparedness and response plan to guide protective actions against COVID-19 and related diseases. If there is no such plan available, you need to start by formulating one. It should form the basis of your preparedness for the resumption of business and economic activities.
In developing an effective infectious disease preparedness and response plan, keep federal, state, and local guidelines and regulations at hand. There are essential resources and recommendations you must consider seriously in formulating your plans. It should also take into account the nature of your workplace and the level of risk the employees are exposed to.
Your plan is expected to cater to your workforce and then everyone who enters the workplace for business-related activities. It must address all possible sources of SARS-CoV-2 in the workplace and contain adequate measures to minimize the risk. You should also consider non-occupational risk factors at home and community settings and its relevance to all employees.
To make your plan viable, include practical steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission within your workplace. There must also be clear procedures on how to treat possible infectious cases, as well as contingency plans for possible outbreaks.
Implementation of Basic Infection Prevention Measures
Following a good plan, you must also have basic infection prevention measures in place in your establishment. You must emphasize the need for employees to embrace good hygiene and other infection control practices. Thankfully, the guidelines from health authorities are easily available. Take the appropriate steps to ensure that your workforce follows these guidelines religiously.
In addition to thorough sensitization, you must make significant changes in the workplace to follow the guidelines from health authorities. There should be a designated place where employees and worksite visitors must wash their hands before coming gaining entrance into the primary workspace. You can opt for alcohol-based hand sanitizers if running water and soap are not easily available.
There are several other preventive measures you must consider seriously in preparing your workplace for COVID-19. You should encourage respiratory etiquettes and provide tissue and trash receptacles for employees and visitors. Rearrange the workspace to encourage social distancing. Discourage the sharing of devices and work tools among workers. Above all, maintain routine cleaning and disaffecting of surfaces, among other housekeeping practices.
Policies and Procedures for Identification and Possible Isolation of Sick Persons
When planning to prevent possible COVID-19 outbreak, you must have policies and procedures for prompt identification of infectious individuals and possible isolation. From what we know about the virus, it is contagious. It can easily spread in the workplace when one person gets infected, which is the major reason it must be detected early. There should be a provision for possible isolation of sick individuals, too.
In developing policies for the identification of sick persons, the employees must be sensitized about the virus and signs to watch out for. They should learn to self-monitor for the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. They should also be encouraged to report at once when they feel sick or notice any sign that is related to the disease. A designated area with closable doors can be used as an isolation area until the sick individual is removed to an appropriate treatment facility.
It is common knowledge, also, that some infected COVID-19 patients remain asymptomatic. This means you should encourage everyone to adhere to the safety guidelines, even when they feel great. Those who have had contact with sick persons must also submit samples for testing.
Workplace Flexibilities and Protections When Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
COVID-19 has changed almost everything about how we live and interact. There is no doubt that it will change the way your workplace feels and looks. You must implement concrete policies that will protect your employees and visitors to your workplace. Workplace flexibilities will be at the core of these policies. Most establishments have already adopted remote working for most staff. These policies should be upheld even when orders and restrictions from the authorities have been relaxed. Sick employees must be encouraged to stay at home. Even the healthy ones who can work from home should be encouraged to do that in some instances.
Management must also encourage employees to wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) within the premises of the workplace. Face masks, for instance, should be worn at all times. Depending on the nature of the job and the risk of exposure, other PPEs like gloves, face shields, and goggles should be used too. You can take a step further by providing these protective gears for your workers.
Staying In Control
There is a popular framework among safety and health professionals for controlling hazards, which is generally referred to as the ‘hierarchy of controls.’ In addition to encouraging workers to maintain safety standards, you have to systematically remove the hazard (which is COVID-19 in this case) from the workplace. It will be pretty difficult to remove the hazard, but implementing protection measures can go a long way. In order of importance, you must implement engineering controls, administrative controls (including safe work practices), as well as PPE. You should also follow the standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
It is evident that we will have to reopen workplaces, even as there is no cure in sight for COVID-19. However, business owners and managers must prepare the workplace to offer maximum protection for the workers and worksite visitors. This is a simple guideline that can help. You must also consider the guidelines from authorized bodies like OSHA. Management must also keep in touch with guidelines and recommendations from federal, state, and local authorities about business reopening and workplace preparations.
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