By Katherine Schwartz
Demand Generation Specialist
- Social distance
- Practice respiratory etiquette when you cough or sneeze
- Wash your hands
- Don’t touch your face
There are dozens of things people can do to avoid exposing themselves to the virus. When it comes to COVID-19 workplace protection, the concept is much the same. Many little changes add up to better protection and peace of mind for employees.
While many employers are using personal protective equipment (PPE) to help reduce risk in their workplace, that’s only the first step. Employee safety requires change and adaptation for everything from workplace layout, to sterilization standards, to office protocols. These aren’t big changes, but they add up to meaningful protection against potential coronavirus exposure.
Personal protective equipment
The best COVID-19 employee protection is the kind you can wear. PPE provides an immediate shield against known transmission methods. If someone sneezes or coughs near you and you’re wearing a face mask, there’s a significantly lower chance you’ll breathe in the virus. The same applies to any other type of PPE—gowns, gloves, face shields, and eyewear.
Protection against droplet transmission is paramount. Employers need to allow—and in some cases provide—PPE to employees where other forms of exposure mitigation aren’t possible. Create policies that dictate what types of PPE are appropriate and how to wear them, as well as what employees need to know as they wear these items on the job.
Modified workplace layouts
COVID-19 office safety starts with distance. Social distancing can mitigate risk and exposure, and it’s a concept easily ported over to the workplace. Maintain six feet of distance whenever possible. Avoid touch, like handshakes. Don’t congregate.
The issue is that many modern workplaces foster collaboration by design. Distance goes against the grain. Employers need to adapt their workspaces in small ways that allot for social spacing without squashing collaboration. Examples include one-way thoroughfares to prevent employees passing each other or proper distance in seating areas to maintain a six-foot buffer.
Now’s the time for facility managers to iterate on floor plan designs and experiment with modified layouts. Use Computer Aided Facility Management (CAFM) software to visualize new floor plans and conceptualize new ideas without further disruption to the workplace. When a spatially generous floor plan gains traction, it’s simple enough to modify the physical workplace. First, make sure the design is conducive to employee health and productivity.
Sanitization and sterilization
Studies show that COVID-19 can survive on common workplace surfaces for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Stainless steel, wood, fabric, leather, and glass are all common throughout offices. Sterilizing these surfaces already is likely part of routine office cleaning—but the frequency or intensity of that cleaning may not be enough to combat coronavirus.
Keeping the workplace clean is a collective effort. Hold employees accountable for maintaining personal spaces and for cleaning up after themselves in common areas. This can include wiping down surfaces and discarding garbage. Employers need to maintain or increase janitorial services or schedule additional sterilizations. Most general disinfectant products are enough to neutralize COVID-19 on surfaces, so regular janitorial is often sufficient. For organizations that want to take an extra step, electrostatic fogging delivers a superior level of sterilization to all common office surfaces.
Mindful office protocols
Employee protection goes beyond the physical. Adopt new COVID-19 office protocols to help workers develop better habits and keep their health (and others’) top-of-mind. Some of the easiest and most practical include:
- Employee and visitor health pre-screening processes
- Hand washing and hygiene standards and practices
- Remote work and telecommuting options for those with symptoms
- Portals to request and stock PPE and hygiene materials
Policies and action items like these work proactively to mitigate employee exposure and reduce (or eliminate) the presence of coronavirus in the workplace. More importantly, they encourage good habits and mindful decision-making by employees. If they feel feverish, they’ll stay home thanks to a pre-screening process. If they see a hand sanitizer bottle is empty, they’ll file a request to have it refilled. Bring this level of mindfulness to employees to keep them safe and comfortable in the workplace.
Make a concerted effort to protect employees
Some of these changes may feel like inconveniences to employees. They’ll welcome others with open arms. In some cases, they might not even realize you’ve changed things. What matters is that employees take the time to address the many opportunities for office protection—from PPE to new desking policies. Explain these changes and their purpose, and let employees know you’re conscious and careful when it comes to their health and wellness.
Keep reading: Coronavirus Employee Resources
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