OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19: A Complete GuideGreg Garner
Have you been following OSHA workplace guidelines? You should be, but you should also adjust to follow COVID-19 guidelines. Preparing workplaces for COVID-19 hasn’t been easy, but there are a few steps you can take.
That way, you can protect yourself and others in the workplace. You can still do your work without worrying as much about COVID-19.
Keep reading to learn more about preparing workplaces for COVID-19.
Follow Governmental Regulations
OSHA’s first recommendation for preparing workplaces for COVID-19 is to follow regulations from the government. Employers should follow guidelines from federal, state, and local governments. That way, they can comply with any rules affecting that location.
You can stay up to date on the US government response to COVID-19 so that you can learn about how to prepare. While the vaccine is rolling out, it will be a while before everyone can get it.
The situation regarding COVID-19 is also changing often. Be sure to follow your local and state governments to learn about COVID in your area. If you stay on top of the changes, you can adjust your procedures to follow OSHA workplace rules for COVID-19.
Consider Employees’ Risk of Exposure
Next, you should consider the risk of employees having a COVID-19 exposure. Of course, healthcare employees and other frontline workers have the highest risk of contracting COVID.
However, employees in all industries may face COVID if they or a coworker gets the virus. Someone may unknowingly bring the virus into the workplace, and COVID-19 workplace rules should consider that.
Employers should do whatever they can to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. That could mean moving desks or rotating schedules to reduce the number of employees working at a time. Either way, you should consider how you can reduce the chance of employees getting COVID-19 at work.
Create and Use a Response Plan
The next recommendation from OSHA is to create an infectious disease and preparedness response plan. The plan should consider employee risks, and it can include recommendations from OSHA and other state and local agencies.
Once you create the plan, tell employees about it as you implement the plan. Let employees ask questions if they have them because you want everyone to know how to follow the plan.
Your plan could include where and when people will work and what to do if someone contracts COVID-19. You may even have employees receive training on infection control.
Then, you and your employees will know what to do if something like that happens. Even after COVID-19, you can use the plan for other infectious diseases.
Clean the Workplace Often
OSHA workplace guidelines for COVID also include cleaning the workplace regularly. You should use quality cleaning and disinfecting products to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens.
Use the products at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, and before and after lunch. If multiple people use the same workstation, you should also clean it before and after you use the station.
Consider if you need to clean or disinfect at any other times of the day. When working in healthcare, you should clean between patients to keep from spreading germs from one patient to another.
Wash Hands Regularly
Next, everyone should wash their hands regularly. You should wash your hands when entering a building and after using an elevator or stairs. Before eating, you should also wash your hands to keep germs from getting into your mouth.
Hand washing is also important after you use the restroom and if you just sneezed, coughed, or blew your nose. Make sure you don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without having washed your hands because germs can get in that way.
If you need to wash your hands but don’t have a sink nearby, you can use hand sanitizer. However, it should contain at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective.
When washing your hands, use soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You can sing a song, like “Happy Birthday” to get a good estimate of the time.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it may have been tempting to come to work with a cough or another minor issue. Now that COVID-19 is a problem, OSHA recommends that sick employees stay home.
As the employer, you should tell employees to not come into the office when they aren’t feeling well. If possible, give employees a couple of extra sick days so that they can get better and not infect their coworkers or anyone that visits the office.
You can be a role model for this by staying home when you aren’t feeling well. Now, it can be hard to stay home if you have a lot of work, but it can make a huge difference when preparing workplaces for COVID-19 by reducing the chances of the disease spreading.
Isolate Contagious Individuals
If someone finds out they have COVID-19, they should isolate for the time that the government recommends. That way, they can get better and keep from infecting more people.
You should create a plan for how to identify people who may be infectious. You can do this in a few ways, such as through contact tracing and by ensuring people have individual spaces to work when possible.
Still, keeping employees, customers, and vendors out of the workplace when they’re sick is the best option. Then, you can keep the environment safer, and you can reduce the risk for other people who work or visit.
After someone isolates, you can be extra safe and require a negative COVID-19 test before they return to work. While they should still follow other OSHA workplace guidelines, a negative test can reassure you that the employee is safe to come back.
Communicate With Employees
Another important part of preparing workplaces for COVID-19 is to communicate with employees. You should tell your employees about any new procedures they must follow when working. If you need to update those procedures, tell employees at that time as well.
Then, your employees can stay up to date with OSHA workplace rules for COVID-19. You can distribute the information during a staff meeting or through an email. Give employees a chance to ask questions so that they know what they need to do.
You can answer those questions, and that can help everyone understand what work will look like. Also, be sure to follow up with employees to check that they are following your workplace guidelines.
Follow Hierarchy of Controls
Next, you should follow the Hierarchy of Controls. The hierarchy aims to control exposures to occupational hazards to protect workers overall. While the hierarchy didn’t originally apply to COVID-19, you can use it when preparing workplaces for COVID-19.
The hierarchy looks like an upside-down pyramid, with the least effective controls at the bottom. Starting from the bottom, there is the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). You should reserve this for when you can’t do anything else.
One level above PPE use is administrative controls, which involves changing how people work. This could include having some employees work remotely or by rotating schedules. After that, you have engineering controls, which aim to isolate the hazard.
Substitution and elimination are the top two levels, and they’re the most effective. Ideally, you would be able to eliminate the threat of COVID-19. However, using less effective methods can still be good when preparing workplaces for COVID-19.
Follow PPE Standards
OSHA workplace guidelines require employers to provide PPE to employees that need it. PEE can refer to masks, goggles, gloves, and anything else that protects the employee.
Employers also need to clean and maintain the PPE so that it remains safe and effective for employees to use. While PPE is the least effective level of the Hierarchy of Controls, it may be necessary in healthcare settings and other workplaces.
If you already use PPE, you may need to increase the use. For example, nurses may have removed masks when not working with patients, but they should wear a mask at all times to stop the spread of COVID-19. They may also decide to wear gloves more than they used to.
Follow BBP Standards
Another essential OSHA standard to follow during COVID-19 is the standard for bloodborne pathogens. While COVID-19 isn’t a bloodborne disease, it can affect people with other diseases.
It’s important to mitigate the spread of diseases such as hepatitis B or HIV during the COVID-19 pandemic. That way, patients won’t get both diseases and risk worse outcomes.
Also, understanding how to protect against bloodborne pathogens can help to protect against COVID. When employees can take the right precautions to avoid diseases, they can help everyone.
If you haven’t recently, you should take a bloodborne pathogens course. Your employees can also benefit from it since they will be able to follow BBP standards.
Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
Preparing workplaces for COVID-19 seems to be a never-ending battle as the disease mutates and more cases emerge. However, employers and workers don’t need to worry as long as they know what OSHA recommends.
Following OSHA guidelines can help employees and companies prepare for the risk of COVID-19 and to keep people safe.
Do you want to learn more about preparing for working during the pandemic? Enroll in one of our courses today.