My HR Professionals is here for you, your business, and your employees during this time of COVID-19 crisis. We have always understood the importance of accurate information and proactive communication. But now more than ever, businesses need a professional and guiding hand in preparing workplaces for COVID-19. Whether it’s a disease prevention safety inspection, consulting, or navigating legal parameters, My HR Professionals has you covered.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Infection with SARS-CoV-2 can cause illness ranging from mild to severe and, in some cases, can be fatal. Symptoms typically include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Some people have experienced no symptoms at all. According to the CDC, symptoms of COVID-19 could appear within two to 14 days after exposure.
Employers need to plan for COVID-19 to reduce the impact of Coronavirus outbreak on businesses, workers, customers, and the public. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) developed the following planning guidance based on traditional infection prevention and hygiene practices.
OSHA’s Steps All Employers Can Take to Reduce Workers’ Risk of Exposure
- Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan
If one does not already exist, develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan. Stay abreast of guidance from federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial health agencies, and consider how to incorporate those recommendations and resources into the workplace.
- Prepare to Implement Basic Infection Prevention Measures
For most employers, protecting workers will depend on emphasizing necessary infection prevention measures. As appropriate, all employers should implement good hygiene and infection control practices.
- Develop Policies and Procedures for Prompt Identification and Isolation of Sick People, if Appropriate
Prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious individuals is a critical step in protecting workers, customers, visitors, and others at a worksite. Employers should inform and encourage employees to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 if they suspect possible exposure.
- Develop, Implement, and Communicate about Workplace Flexibilities and Protections Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies. Be sure to maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be mindful that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other ill family members than is usual.
- Implement Workplace Controls
OSHA uses a framework called the “hierarchy of controls” to select ways of controlling workplace hazards. In other words, the best way to manage risk is to systematically remove it from the workplace, rather than relying on workers to reduce their exposure. During a COVID-19 outbreak, when it may not be possible to eliminate the hazard, the most effective protection measures are engineering controls, administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of control measure when considering the ease of implementation, effectiveness, and cost. In most cases, a combination of control measures will be necessary to protect workers from exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
In addition to the types of workplace controls discussed below, CDC guidance for businesses provides employers and workers with recommended SARS-CoV-2 infection prevention strategies to implement in workplaces: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019- ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html.
Engineering Controls: involve isolating employees from work-related hazards. In workplaces where they are appropriate, these types of controls reduce exposure to hazards without relying on worker behavior and can be the most cost-effective solution to implement. Engineering controls for SARS-CoV-2 include: Installing high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates, installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards, or installing a drive-through window for customer service.
Administrative Controls: require action by the worker or employer. Typically, they are changes in work policy or procedures to reduce or minimize exposure to a hazard. Examples of administrative controls for SARS-CoV-2 include:
- Encouraging sick workers to stay at home.
- Minimizing contact among workers, clients, and customers.
- Establishing alternating days or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a facility at a given time.
- Discontinuing nonessential travel.
- Providing workers with up-to-date education and training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviors.
Safe Work Practices: are types of administrative controls that include procedures for safe and proper work used to reduce the duration, frequency, or intensity of exposure to a hazard. An example of safe work practices for SARS-CoV-2 is providing resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene. For example, provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, alcohol-based hand rubs, and disinfectants for workers to clean their work surfaces.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): While engineering and administrative controls are considered more effective in minimizing exposure to SARS-CoV-2, PPE may also be needed to prevent certain exposures. While correctly using PPE can help prevent some exposures, it should not take the place of other prevention strategies.
Examples of PPE includes gloves, goggles, face shields, face masks, and respiratory protection, when appropriate. During an outbreak of infectious disease, such as COVID-19, recommendations for PPE specific to occupations or job tasks may change depending on geographic location, updated risk assessments for workers, and information on PPE effectiveness in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Employers should check the OSHA and CDC websites regularly for updates about recommended PPE.
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