As your business ramps up after lockdown, investing in a COVID-19 health and safety policy now can protect your employees and pay dividends for at least the next few months. Following this guide can protect your coworkers and help prevent another lockdown due to an outbreak – it’s mutually beneficial.
Here, we’ll help you translate the CDC and OSHA COVID-19 guidelines into a plan of action that works for your specific situation, whether you’re looking to assess your current policy or create a new one from scratch.
Implementation Tip – Who Writes The Guidelines?
As the supervisor or boss, you are responsible for the safety and health of your employees in the workplace.
- your experience is valuable in creating guidelines that are tailored to your workplace and your needs
- your credibility is necessary to create a policy everyone can agree on and follow.
If you are unable to write the COVID-19 workplace guidelines yourself, make sure that you are heavily involved in the process and involve individuals who are qualified and experienced in health, safety, and human resources.
Enacting the Guidelines – Working With Your Employees
Ask yourself, “How will these guidelines play out with real people in my real workplace?” Start now to plan out how every decision you make can turn into concrete actions.
Answer Questions And Educate Employees
To put this policy into effect, everyone has to be on the same page. When the COVID guidelines have been drawn up, schedule a meeting, video chat, or phone call with your employees, explain the policy, and answer any questions they may have. They’re the people who will actually live out this policy – the key is to make sure their opinions are heard and acknowledged.
Keep track of the sources you use to make your policy (like this article, to show your employees) so that you can tell anyone who asks the reasoning behind rules that may seem arbitrary or annoying. Then, constantly remind everyone that COVID-19 workplace safety should be at the top of everyone’s minds – not just the boss’s, and be sure each person understands their personal responsibilities (more on those later).
Do this by talking through each change in the workplace, no matter how small, and taking the time to answer questions and address concerns. As you talk, ask them for their recommendations – they may have a perspective you haven’t thought of.
However robust your company’s procedures are, there will always be those who disagree with you. Eight out of ten people may be perfectly content with the guidelines but the best long-term strategy is to figure out where everyone stands now and take it into account. Ask what the more cautious people prefer about specific issues such as social distancing, masks, and even entering their private offices.
To those who think your restrictions are “too strict,” remind them that the CDC guidelines are what they are – and they are the bare minimum. Tell them why you are doing things the way you are and tie it to someone they know – their grandparents, or someone with a serious health condition. It doesn’t hurt to show them charts like these, reminding them how powerful COVID really is (detailed, current data can be found here):
It’s better to hear and understand your coworkers’ opinions now than to wait for them to bring up a disagreement with you.
First, these health and safety guidelines can’t just be suggestions. Whoever writes the guidelines, the entire chain of command must be on board 100%. This is the single most important step, as managers and supervisors set the example and can create or destroy a culture of health and safety. Challenge yourself to apply the guidelines religiously – sending the message to your employees that this is important, and they should do the same.
Once management is setting a good example, sincerely ask everyone (one on one if possible) for their cooperation, and check in on them occasionally to ask how it’s going.
Implementation Tip – Reminders
People are forgetful, so there is real value in reminding employees by placing signs.
- Put hand-washing signs in the bathroom
- Hang reminders to disinfect tools around the tool shed, and in the kitchen for utensils
- Display signs about social distancing, masks, and other new policies
How To Write The Guidelines – Hygiene and Personal Responsibility
You can minimize both confusion and COVID by spelling out your expectations to your employees right from the start. Here are the questions and situations to consider when creating your COVID-19 office health and safety guidelines for your workspace, and tips on how to deal with them.
Personal Hygiene and Health
First and foremost, don’t forget the obvious. The same tips experts have always told us about the flu apply directly to COVID-19. This means: Educate and encourage your employees to have a healthy lifestyle.
- Hand washing is a more familiar form of keeping healthy but it’s never been more important. Remind your employees when (sometimes how: with soap and for 20 seconds) you expect them to wash their hands.
- Remind everyone that eating well, especially cutting down on sugar and white flour, which lower the immune system, is a great way to stay healthy.
- There’s no better time to start exercising regularly! Having an active lifestyle can make a huge difference.
- Additionally, good, quality rest helps anyone fight off any disease, including COVID-19.
Disinfecting common areas is one of the most important parts of keeping your workspace safe, healthy, and COVID-free.
Remind employees to:
- Clean kitchen supplies, the microwave, and the coffee maker after using them
- Disinfect shared tools before putting them away or giving them to someone else
- Wash shared conference rooms, tables, and vehicles
- Bring their own utensils, cups, coffee mugs, and dishes (or provide disposable ones)
For cleaning supplies to be used, they must be easily available to your employees. Products such as bleach wipes and hand sanitizer are easily obtained and effective. OSHA recommends using ESPA approved disinfectants that are effective against COVID.
Consider placing hand sanitizer around the workplace in convenient places (at the front door, on tables, and in meeting rooms). Make sure to designate one or several people to keep track of the supplies and refill them when necessary.
State and local social distancing laws vary greatly (see this for info specific to your state), but even if they don’t, it’s up to you to create social distancing procedures that are both safe and make sense in your specific workplace.
It’s more than just a question of whether or not to abide by the 6-foot rule – the trick is to make this rule easy to follow.
- Physically move the chairs in your lunchroom, conference rooms, and other gathering places 6 feet away from each other
- Put social distancing signs in the hallways (want to quickly download, edit, and print these? now!)
- Plan ahead by looking for troublesome spots unique to your business, such as machines that require multiple people to operate
More than likely, your people CAN stay 6 feet from each other, they just aren’t in the habit of doing so.
Additionally, it’s easy to forget the difference between visitors and team members, but that’s an important distinction to make. It’s all about maintaining as few “social circles” as possible, and each new circle you or your coworkers expose yourselves to increases your chance of getting the virus. As the GDW office reopened, “visitors” had to be cleared with the front desk so that the administrator could approve or deny them based on whether they have any COVID-related symptoms.
If your surrounding area is still logging large amounts of new cases, OSHA recommends tips such as staggering working shifts, and ensuring at least six feet between fixed working stations (watch their video for more info).
Regardless of what you do, make sure that your workplace social distancing standards are clear and consistent, and communicate any changes that happen over time.
Masks and PPE
Your responsibility is to create procedures that apply directly to your situations and workplace. Mask protocols are also probably subject to state and local laws, so look here for specifics about your situation. This interactive state-by-state reopening guide from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may give you the state-by-state information you need.
To make everything simpler, it’s best if you provide masks for your own employees (and visitors) – that way no one has excuses for not wearing one. Make sure someone is in charge of restocking the masks whenever needed.
Believe it or not, it’s also important to share with employees information on how to correctly wear and remove masks. For the first two weeks after the virus hit, even some nurses had to be trained to correctly put on and remove their masks. If you think this seems ridiculous, you may be doing it wrong yourself – there’s a special way of doing it that further limits the spread of germs (watch the video, and email it around to your colleagues).
Remember as well that masks are not an “all or nothing” deal. Large amounts of unavoidable close contact in a county with a relatively high amount of cases means that employees should keep them on constantly. Otherwise, let everyone know that it’s okay to leave them off if they’re outside, in a wide-open space, or in a private office.
Find Ways To Minimize Face-To-Face Contact
Though lockdown may be ending, caution in meeting is still wise. Depending on where your state is in the reopening process, you may need to find ways to minimize in-person meetings, specifically with clients and other persons who don’t frequent the workplace. The 3 months that the US already spent under lockdown have provided us with a multitude of incredible digital collaboration tools and techniques that are still extremely helpful.
Make sure the tools necessary for these meetings are readily available to all employees and be prepared to help set them up. For instance, if your company has bought a premium version of Zoom or another video call tool, make sure all employees are aware of their premium features and are able to set up their accounts.
Staying Home When Sick Or Exposed
Unlike before, minor illnesses and exposure to illness may now be suitable reasons to stay at home and reduce the spread of viruses. Though it may be difficult to cut down on available help when workers are exposed, it’s better than losing weeks of business due to a breakout.
Employees around America have been conditioned to think that working while sick shows dedication, and they (possibly you as well) may need to be “reprogrammed” by continuous reminders. Be clear about these policies to your employees: tell them right now that exposure (such as a sick family member) and minor illness means that they should stay home for a couple of days. Check your sick days policy to make sure that this is encouraged, rather than discouraged.
Think proactively and create reasonable and safe policies for working from home. At-home employees may not be able to do everything they normally would, but what can they do?
Employee COVID Breakout
In the event that an employee does fall ill with COVID-19, it’s important to know how to deal with it. Hopefully this never happens, but keep these tools in your back pocket in case it should:
- Here’s guidance from the Department of Labor on recording COVID cases
- This video gives more details on an employee’s eligibility for paid leave regarding COVID.
Beyond The Guidelines – Additional Safety Measures
Sticking to the bare minimum requirements tells employees and visitors that you don’t really care and are just doing it to check off a box. The trick is to foster a health and safety culture, and to do that you need to set a precedent of going above and beyond. This goes beyond COVID, investing in helpful but non-required safety measures (such as the ones below) sends a strong message – telling everyone that it’s okay to talk about health and safety on a daily basis.
Physical Barriers, Ventilation Systems, And Air Filters
Research backs the fact that physical barriers in certain areas of the workplace, ventilation systems, and high-quality air filters reduce the spread of germs. Whether you use it or not, this is a good tool to keep in mind – especially if you often have large groups of employees working in the same room. Look up your local recommendations for using these safety measures and see if they are a good fit for your workplace.
Provide Safety Training
If you have over 10 employees, providing safety training isn’t even above-and-beyond, it’s required by law. However, with the heightened risk of COVID-19, health and safety training has never been more important.
Good Day’s Work offers a complete, state-of-the-art, online employee training package that will help you foster a culture of safety, health, and wellness in your company. If you need top-notch training with complete control and customization, give us a call.
U.S. Chamber Of Commerce – Ready To Reopen: A Playbook For Your Small Business