Ensure Office Staff Remain Safe as Businesses Start to Reopen

Businesses throughout the nation have taken a hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now that it's back to the office for many people, business managers and owners have many concerns about the safety of their staff.

Occupational Health

Health Street
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If someone in your re-opened office contracts COVID-19 – or even just reports being exposed to it – office managers will need to execute a plan to prevent the spread of infection. But before you get there, employ best practices to prevent the spread.

What are the best ways to prevent COVID-19 in the office?

The most effective way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when you head back to the office is by following basic safety measures such as the following:

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Frequent handwashing. Proper handwashing is the number one way to prevent the spread of infection and must be done by everyone — this includes, you, every staff member, worksite visitors, and customers. You should also offer hand sanitizer (containing 60% alcohol or greater) for when soap and water aren’t readily available.
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Provide staff and customers with tissues and trash receptacles.
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Have your workers only use their desks, phones, and supplies. Make sure everyone has what they need to keep them from sharing. If supplies must be shared, properly sanitize everything between uses.
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Keep the workplace clean by using cleaning supplies with EPA (environmental protection agency)-approved labels, which are made to kill viruses such as COVID-19.
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Make sure your employees understand that they must stay home if they are sick.
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Respiratory etiquette. Many businesses encourage employees and customers to wear masks. But make sure workers know they must cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, especially if you don’t require them to wear masks in the workplace.
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Practice social distancing. When possible, keep desks and workspaces at least six feet apart. Remote work may also be an option in some cases.

How can I ensure that my employees are being responsible about social distancing?

You can put rules and recommendations into place for everyone’s safety, but that doesn’t always mean they’ll comply. There are things you can do to encourage social distancing.

For employees, offer remote work if possible or arrange shift schedules to allow for fewer workers in the office at one time. You can reposition desks and work areas to keep everyone distanced from each other.

To keep customers distanced, you can use tape to place marks on the floor that are six feet apart from each other, and make sure the customers are using these markers. Use curbside pickup if possible or limit the number of customers that may enter the business.

Even with these basic safety measures, it’s still possible for someone to become ill. It’s important to have a plan in place so you can identify when this happens and know what to do about it.

When an employee is exposed to COVID-19, encourage them to follow the latest isolation guidelines. With much of this new virus still unknown, it can be frustrating to not know if you have the virus or have its antibodies. However, there is a lot of good information about COVID-19 testing available from the CDC, FDA, and independent websites.

What is a coronavirus test?

There are two different coronavirus tests available — one that tests for antibodies and another that checks for antigens.

An antigen test is to check for a current, active infection. You may want to consider this test before allowing a worker to return to the office.

A coronavirus antibody test will not indicate if someone is currently ill with the virus, but it checks for antibodies that may have developed as a result of a past exposure or infection. There is hope that antibodies will equate to some measure of immunity, though it has not yet been proven scientifically.

What should be done if a worker is exposed or tests positive for the coronavirus?

In sum, it is important that employers have a protocol in place so they are ready to respond when and if a COVID incident occurs in the workplace. You should consider offering occupational health testing services now, if you don’t already have one in place. It’s important to act quickly to prevent any additional spread of the virus. Of course, it’s prudent to find out who an exposed employee has been in close contact within the workplace and then notify those workers of the situation. You should not mention the exposed or infected person’s name, for privacy reasons.

For certain, if someone in your office is known to have been exposed to the coronavirus, they should be urged to contact their doctor. As an employer, you should also refer them to the CDC website for further guidance and information.

Citations

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“Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
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Cohn, Alisa. “Your Employee Tested Positive for Covid-19. What Do You Do?” Harvard Business Review, 30 March 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/03/your-employee-tested-positive-for-covid-19-what-do-you-do
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“U.S. Department of Labor Issues Alert on Social Distancing to Keep Employees Safe at Work During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” U.S. Department of Labor, 28 May 2020, https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/osha/osha20200528-0
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“Get the Facts About Coronavirus.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html
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Occupational Health

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Occupational Health

Read Health Street's informative articles about occupational health testing.