As the US battles to return to normal, many of us will find ourselves slowly transitioning back to our places of work. This can feel strange and a little unnerving, to say the least.
If you’re a business owner or a business manager, it’s strongly advised to develop an action plan to prevent and mitigate COVID-19. These preventative measures should be regularly updated as the situation evolves, and the effectiveness of the measures and compliance of workers must be monitored.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), here’s what you can do to return to business safely.
What’s the Risk of Contracting COVID-19 at Work?
As you probably know, COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets expelled through breathing, talking, and coughing, and through contaminated surfaces. This means that exposure to the virus can occur at work or while traveling to and from work.
This risk varies across different workplaces and depends on factors like location, team size, and type of work. For example, if your team cannot do their job without being within one meter of one another, transmission is more likely. Contracting the virus might also be more likely in workplaces in areas with higher rates of community spread, so companies in California may need to put more precautions in place than comparable businesses in Indiana.
How to Assess the Risk in Your Workplace
According to WHO, owners and managers should work with an occupational health and safety advisor to carry out regular rapid risk assessment for each work setting and job role. Any potential risks should be identified and preventative measures put in place.
Generally, jobs can be categorized as follows:
- Low exposure risk - work that doesn’t require close contact with others, such as office work or teleservices.
- Medium exposure risk - work with frequent contact with others, such as retail, home deliveries, accommodation, construction, and public transport.
- High exposure risk - work that involves frequent contact with people or objects more likely to be infected with COVID-19, including domestic workers, social care workers, and home repair technicians such as plumbers and electricians.
What to Consider in a Risk Assessment
For each risk assessment, think about the environment, the task, any potential threats, available resources such as personal protective equipment (PPE), and the feasibility of protective measures. If your business requires accommodation for your team (on-call care workers, for example), this should also be considered.
In addition, the individual risks to each employer should be looked at. For example, if one of your team is older or has a pre-existing medical condition, extra provisions may be required to protect them from COVID-19.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may also consider whether to suspend or downscale some activities or services. This will depend on your capacity to put preventative measures in place.
What Measures Should be put in Place in All Work Places?
The key to proper protection from COVID-19 in the workplace is clear policies and thorough training for all team members. Every place of business should implement frequent hand washing or disinfection with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Social distancing (where possible) and proper hygiene such as covering coughs must be enforced, and work environments must be cleaned frequently. Business owners should also limit unnecessary travel.
If a team member is exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19, the proper management of this is critical for the protection of other team members and the community as a whole.
Additional Measures to Protect Workers
In addition to the measures listed above, it’s also recommended that workers in medium or high-risk roles wear medical masks. This is also advised for employees over the age of 60 and for those with underlying health issues. Younger people with no symptoms are recommended to wear fabric masks whenever social distancing isn’t possible. For low-risk workplaces, your mask policy should adhere to local and national guidelines.
All workplaces should ensure fresh, clean air, and filters should be regularly cleaned if the air is recirculated through an AC unit. In high and medium-risk workplaces, WHO recommends an increase in ventilation through natural aeration or artificial ventilation, ideally without recirculation.
The mental health of your team is also an important consideration. COVID-19 creates worries including fear of falling ill and dying, being placed in quarantine, and losing a livelihood, and symptoms of anxiety and depression are common. Mental health support should be made available to all workers, and mental health hazards must be considered as part of the rapid risk assessments.
If you’re still working from home, read our tips on how to stay happy and productive.