Protecting Your Workers During the Pandemic

If you are one of the companies that has been deemed an essential employer and are remaining open during stay-at-home orders, you should be doing all you can to protect your workers against contracting COVID-19.

While some workers are really on the front lines of fighting the disease, like health care workers and emergency services personnel, there are many other people working in factories, grocery stores, warehouse and transportation, among other industries, that are also at risk to varying degrees.

The response to this has been varied. Some employers have taken steps to protect their workers. For example, some grocery stores have supplied cashiers with masks, face shields or plexiglass barriers between them and customers.

But not all employers are taking those steps and that’s ignited worker protests through a swath of industries:

  • After a mechanic tested positive for COVID-19, half the employees at his workplace stayed home to press the employer to clean the entire worksite before they would return.
  • Workers staged a walkout at a truck manufacturing facility because the company was not supplying them with hot water for washing their hands.
  • Bus drivers went on strike, saying the city they work for wasn’t doing enough to protect them.
  • 200 employees walked out of one warehouse after a worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Employers need to be careful, as failing to provide adequate protections against coronavirus to their workers could result in lawsuits and subsequent penalties if OSHA decides to strictly enforce its General Duty Clause.

What you can do

Facilities will vary in their own risks, but the following are some general areas that all employers should consider to reduce the risk or spread of infection in their workplaces, regardless of whether they are a large high-traffic facility like a food warehouse or a small hardware or specialty grocery store:

Providing personal protective equipment — This can range from gloves and masks to face shields.

Protective barriers or partitions — These could be partitions made of plexiglass so workers can communicate and make eye contact.

Air circulation — If you have fans or air conditioning units blowing, take steps to minimize air from fans blowing from one worker directly at another.

Spacing — Require employees to work at least 6 feet apart.

Hygiene — Place handwashing stations with hot water and soap or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in multiple locations, in order to encourage good hand hygiene. Also urge workers to avoid touching their faces.

Customer handling — Use rope-and-stanchion systems to keep customers from queueing or congregating near work areas. Mark spots on the floor spaced 6 feet apart to ensure social distancing.

Consider restricting the number of customers allowed inside the facility at any point in time. Also, consider options for increasing in-store pickup or delivery to minimize the number of customers shopping in store facilities.

Cleaning — Disinfect frequently touched surfaces in workspaces as well as doorknobs, buttons and controls. If you have customers entering your facilities, disinfect all public-facing areas, such as points of sale and service counters.

Employee issues — Add additional clock in/out stations. If possible, these should be spaced apart to reduce crowding in these areas.

Staggering schedules — Stagger workers’ arrival and departure times to avoid congregations of employees in parking areas, locker rooms and near time clocks. Stagger lunches as well, to avoid overcrowding in general areas where employees may often eat. If you have an area frequently used for lunches, make sure you enforce 6-feet spacing in that location too.

Keeping virus at bay — Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. Check temperatures of workers upon arrival — and consider checking customers’ temperatures too. If anybody is running a fever, they should not be allowed into the facility and should be asked to go home and call their doctor.

Want to know more?

OSHA has a fantastic COVID-19 resource page that outlines safety procedures that employers in a number of industries can implement to reduce the chance of transmission between workers, as well as between workers and customers. You can find it here.

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