What workplace safety concerns need to be addressed as employees return to work?

As many areas in the United States begin to ease their stay-at-home restrictions, employees are returning to work—but it’s still very important to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. As they are being asked to come back, employees have a few safety concerns in mind, namely what measures will be put in place to keep them safe, what social distancing will look like in their workplace, and what will be done if a coworker tests positive for COVID-19.

How Will Social Distancing Be Implemented?

For many workers, this is the question most on their mind as they come back. The CDC has stated that keeping your distance is still the most effective way to reduce the transmission of illness, since the coronavirus spreads through person-to-person contact. One of the best ways to keep workers safe is to ensure they are able to have at least 6 feet of distance between them.

What this will look like depends on the nature of your operations and the layout of your facility. In an office, desks should be spaced far apart, or you may need to install private cubicles. On a construction site, workers will need to complete tasks distanced from each other or work in small groups that do not intermingle. In factories and manufacturing, where social distancing is more difficult, plexiglass shields may be installed between workspaces to prevent transmission. Whichever is best for your situation, make sure you communicate this to workers so they know what to expect.

Will PPE Be Required and Provided? 

The CDC has recommended that everyone wear face coverings when they are out in public, and this includes at work. Exact requirements for face coverings will vary based on local guidance. If you decide to require that employees wear masks, this needs to be communicated beforehand, and under OSHA’s PPE standard, employers are required to provide their workers the necessary PPE, as well as training on how to properly use it.

What Happens If an Employee Has the Virus?

Another safety concern is the anticipated procedure for a worker testing positive for COVID-19. Will other employees be asked to self-isolate to ensure they did not contract the virus? Will everyone return to telecommuting for a specified period of time? Even if PPE is provided and social distancing is ensured, there is still a chance employees may get sick. Communicating about how this will be handled is one of the most important aspects of returning to work.


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