Best Practices for Employee Safety Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis

Elizabeth Cuneo, Contributing Editor

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis affects all people and all businesses across the U.S. Because everyone is concerned about safety and health measures right now, it’s important to adopt the necessary safety measures to keep your facility and employees safe.

According to OSHA, companies of all sizes should develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan. As part of this, you should stay up-to-date on guidance from federal, state, local, tribal and/or territorial health agencies, and use these recommendations and resources to develop workplace-specific plans. Some common best practice measures include:

  • Frequent hand-washing
  • Routine cleaning/disinfectant
  • Allowing flexible worksites and telecommuting
  • Restricting the amount of people in a space and maintaining 6-ft distance
  • Providing PPE for employees
  • If an employee is sick, encouraging them to stay home and implement a more lenient sick leave policy

Real-Life Examples and Best Practices

Most big companies across America have issued statements and policy changes in response to the COVID-19 crisis, in line with CDC recommendations. Many corporations, regardless of the sector, have instilled the 6-ft space protocol to keep employees a safe distance apart. They have changed company policy to include preventative measures, as well as reactionary ones, to ensure the safety of the warehouse, facility or plant.

Amazon, for example, says that it has made over 150 process updates to help protect employees, including common processes, like enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures. This includes new efforts, such as using disinfectant fog in its New York fulfillment center.

BP has changed shift patterns to make social distancing easier. The company is also restricting workplace access; increasing testing of its employees; and enabling safe isolation and evacuation of any suspected cases. And, both companies are providing PPE for all their employees.

Ford Motor Company has issued a statement explaining the steps the automaker has made to keep employees safe. These steps include providing hand sanitizer, tissues, sanitizing wipes and other material at various locations; increasing its cleaning standards; and encouraging greater social spacing.

What this all means for companies, large or small, is that procedures and protocol are changing. According to Vinay Panday, Director of Marketing at Alliance Environmental Group, an environmental remediation company, operations have changed in the past few weeks within the organization. It has also changed how it responds to customers, especially with regard to keeping employees safe.

“We have the correct PPE. Our workers are fully trained and licensed. We ensure that, once a job is complete, they clean off thoroughly through a wash station and portable decontamination chamber. At our branches and corporate office, we continue to clean and sanitize. We have introduced commercial sanitary wipes. We are wiping down handles and door knobs every 15 minutes. We have wiped down all computers and laptops,” said Panday.

At SKC which specializes in air sampling solutions, Corporate Industrial Hygienist, Lucinette Alvarado says things changed quickly for the company. But, the company hit the ground running when it first heard of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ironically, the first thing I thought was, ‘I need to get these people together.’ Of course, this was meant metaphorically, not physically. I immediately thought of the AIHA publication: The Role of the Industrial Hygienist in a Pandemic, which had provided critical guidance in the past. I purchased the latest revision online and used it and other resources to create a presentation for SKC executive and management teams. The presentation augmented their knowledge and facilitated shaping of an emergency management action plan. I also took the opportunity to clarify my role as an industrial hygienist in providing guidance and helping with planning for the safety and health of workers,” said Alvarado.

Alvarado went on to say that the company continues to follow the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for businesses. Some of the practical ways the company has implemented changes to keep workers safe include:

  • An Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan containing guidelines for operations, logistics, and health and safety protocols
  • Eliminated international travel and reduced domestic travel
  • Encouragement of sick employees to stay home
  • Emphasized social distancing and handwashing, including provision of additional hand sanitizers throughout SKC facilities and offices
  • Reinforced good respiratory care etiquette
  • Thorough, routine environmental cleaning with increased maintenance staff
  • Partnering with manufacturing and suppliers to maintain the flow of product and find alternatives should supplies become limited
  • A plan to have a significant number of employees working from home for an extended period

Because of all of the changes and heightened safety measures, a lot of anxiety and confusion can emerge amongst staff. To address this, Panday says it is important to be transparent and communicative with employees. This communication should work to ensure that employees follow all proper protocols and precautionary measures. To do this, proper communication is key, even if it’s now sent over email instead of in person. And that goes for new employees too, who are coming on board at the height of the crisis. As Panday describes, the company is still hiring new staff during this time and training them in light of recent changes.

“We follow strict guidelines of compliance and training regulated by associations, such as OSHA, the EPA, ICRA and the CDC. We have a dedicated training team that conducts this training,” said Panday.

It’s easy to recognize that, because of mandated social distancing, as well as “stay home, stay safe” orders, businesses and corporations are relying less on one-on-one conversations and more on technology to get them through this time.

“Since certain corporate employees are away, we have used video conferencing, such as Zoom, to conduct virtual meetings. We also have a project management tool, Monday.com, to ensure that we are on top of workflow tasks and operations. Our company is using Microsoft Teams to stay connected,” said Panday.

The new reality is that daily processes have changed, and businesses are operating differently. As you work to make sense of how to keep operations running smoothly, remember some of these best practices to keep your facility and employees safe. For more recommendations and best practices, visit www.osha/gov. IHW