Once a virus is already present and spreading throughout a community, the best way to reduce further transmission is to practice social distancing. However, some businesses provide essential products and services and are required to remain open to support the general public. In this case, how can healthy business operations be maintained?
Both OSHA and the CDC strongly encourage businesses to coordinate with local and state health officials in order to establish a response plan for their employees. It should be taken into consideration how to best decrease the spread of illness in the workplace, and help lower the impact for the local community. The CDC provides guidance for a business response to the spread of viruses. Its top recommendations include:
- Assessing essential functions. Be prepared to change the way your business operates. You may need to find alternative suppliers for goods that are unavailable or in high demand, prioritize certain customers, or even suspend certain operations for the time being. Share response plans with business partners to improve community response efforts.
- Implementing policies and practices that support employees, including flexible sick leave. Ensure sick policies are consistent with public health guidance and allow employees to stay home to care for a sick family member or care for children due to the closures of childcare and schools. If sick leave is not currently offered, you may want to create non-punitive “emergency sick leave” policies. For employees who are sick, employers should not require a positive test result or healthcare provider’s note, due to the fact that healthcare facilities may be busy and not able to provide timely documentation.
- Improving engineering controls. Using the facility’s ventilation system, ventilation should be increased, as well as the percentage of outdoor air that circulates.
- Supporting hygiene etiquette. Cleaning and disinfection should be performed routinely, especially on commonly used or touched surfaces. If any worker or customer who is suspected or confirmed to have coronavirus and has been in the facility, cleaning and disinfection must be enhanced. Ask workers to wash their hands frequently, keep their distance, and cover their coughs and sneezes.
- Reconsidering work-related travel, meetings, and gatherings. Check the CDC’s health notices for travelers and carefully consider whether travel is really necessary. Use teleconferencing for meetings, and consider canceling or postponing gatherings that can only happen in person. If meetings are conducted, they should be held in spaces that are well-ventilated, open, and have plenty of space for people to practice social distancing.
It helps to identify a coordinator who will be responsible for issues concerning the coronavirus and other illnesses for your workplace. Human Resources should also ensure that all practices and policies are consistent with state and federal workplace laws. With this guidance, it is possible for business to help reduce the transmission of illness, while ensuring healthy operations.
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