by Emily Sixta
With the distribution of COVID vaccines ramping up, businesses, and their employees, are looking forward to returning to the workplace. Along with this however is some hesitancy regarding continued safety measures. Creating a safe environment for your employees and providing reassurance of their health is key in moving forward from the COVID pandemic. For that reason, the Department of Labor and Industries, partnering with OSHA, DOSH and the CDC, has prepared guidance for a safe return to work.
A training program is required in order to remain compliant with L&I standards and employers must provide training for all newly instituted practices to all employees, in languages best understood by those employees. This education must cover the signs, symptoms and risk factors of COVID-19 as well as prevention best practices and how your business is protecting employees from the spread of the virus. Additional training recommendations include posting signs throughout the workplace (such as this Stop the Spread of Germs poster) to remind employees of proper handwashing and social distancing practices as well as providing employees with updated information from DOSH, OSHA, the CDC and local and state health organizations.
Cleaning and Sanitation
In addition to training employees on prevention techniques, proper cleaning and sanitization as well as access to proper handwashing will be required in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. Businesses must supply adequate soap and clean water for employees and, in areas where indoor plumbing is not easily accessible, portable handwashing stations will be required. Furthermore, in high-traffic areas where equipment is handled, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies should be readily available to wipe down any objects after each use. Cleaning supplies must be provided to janitorial staff as well as general staff for instances in which areas must be spot cleaned. By adhering to these guidelines, a safe and healthy environment can be obtained. For more information on proper cleaning techniques, see the CDC’s article on Cleaning and Disinfecting for Community Facilities.
Safe Working Environment, Social Distancing
Employers must also provide a safe working environment, in which social distancing can be adhered to and, in areas where social distancing is not possible, employers are required to provide increased ventilation and barriers that will shield from coughs, sneezes, and the spread of germs. L&I has released recommendations for the workplace in order to make this possible.
- Position workstations at least 6’ apart or stagger schedules so active workstations are appropriately spaced
- Reduce meeting attendees to only those necessary and provide call-in or virtual options when possible
- Provide markers to delineate appropriate distances when waiting in line as well as directions for the flow of traffic throughout your workspace
- Set up meeting and break rooms for appropriate social distancing by reducing the number of chairs and placing them strategically within the space
- Reduce in-person customer visits by utilizing phone calls and virtual meetings wherever possible
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
One question on people’s mind as we return to the “new normal” is Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, when and how it should be used. In most cases cloth face coverings and homemade masks can be worn to reduce the spread of germs though they are not impenetrable, and, for this reason, it is also recommended to continue the practice of safe social distancing, frequent handwashing and sanitization of surfaces. In instances where workers must be in close proximity, N95 masks can be used. Per L&I, when N95 masks are used, a Respirator Protection Program per the Respirators Rule (Chapter 296-842 WAC) must be established, including Medical and fit testing.
Identify Symptoms and Stay at Home
Finally, employers should institute procedures to quickly identify and isolate employees showing any symptoms of COVID-19. Employees that are sick are required to stay home and any areas that they have used immediately deep cleaned. To most effectively monitor the health of anyone in the organization, L&I recommends conducting daily “COVID-19 symptom checks” for all employees, contractors, customers, or visitors to the business.
Using these measures, we can assist in containing the spread of COVID-19, provide a safe and healthy environment for employees and customers and continue to the path to regrowth of our community.
For more information on Coronavirus Safety as well as industry-specific guidance, visit the L&I website.