By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
There was no real guidance or preparing workplaces for unique event like COVID-19. Some companies had biohazard and contagious illness policies, but few were ready to adapt to a global pandemic with agility. Many companies figured it out quickly. Others took longer, but eventually adapted.
Between workplace social distancing and work from home, many businesses continue to work through the pandemic at common levels. But now, as employees return to work, it’s time for companies to consider creating a COVID-19 workplace safety policy.
What’s the purpose of a COVID-19 safety policy?
The coronavirus pandemic may be waning, but it’s not over. We’re still waiting to see if the virus is seasonal or if people are prone to recurring infections. There is no current vaccine, only treatment of symptoms. This leaves prevention as the first and best line of defense.
A COVID-19 safety policy is merely a formalization of preventive action. What steps is your organization taking to ensure a safe environment? How will you prevent the spread of coronavirus and protect employees? A safety policy answers these questions, outlines action items, and establishes workplace safety positions for COVID-19 oversight.
Like all workplace policies—especially those focused on safety—a COVID-19 policy is also a standard for transparency and accountability. If someone in your workplace falls ill with the virus, you can look at your safety policy to understand how and why it happened and what needs to change so it doesn’t occur again.
What should a safety policy include?
As you write a policy for coronavirus safety in the workplace, look at other safety policies. What type of accountability do you need to plan for? What action items and responsibilities do you need to integrate into the workplace. Above all, how will this policy be effective in mitigating the potential for a coronavirus outbreak in your workplace?
The full scope of your COVID-19 workplace safety policy depends on factors like organization size and industry. At a high level, it should include the following pieces of information as they pertain to your workplace.
- Employee self-screening guidelines
- Key OSHA standards for COVID-19
- Social distancing guidelines and best practices
- Cleaning and disinfecting standards and practices
- Workers’ rights and employer responsibilities
- Guidance for reporting confirmed cases
This information should reside in a policy document that serves as a go-to resource for combatting COVID-19 and conditions that may harbor it. It should reside in a policy document that serves as a go-to resource for combatting COVID-19 and conditions that may harbor it. It should contain information, resources, references, actionable steps, and leadership tools that standardize prevention of and reaction to the presence of the virus in the workplace.
Consider current and future challenges
COVID-19 is a novel pandemic and one we’re still learning about. Any workplace safety policy a company creates needs to account for future best practices and challenges that arise as we learn more about the behavior of the virus and its impact on us. Craft a policy that delivers current, reliable information, yet is easily updated and modified as new insights come to light. The scope of the policy and any documentation should include forethought to:
- Infection prevention measures
- Identification and isolation of sick employees
- Engineering and administrative controls for social distancing
- Cleaning, disinfecting, decontamination, and ventilation practices
- Remote communications and telecommuting training for managers and team leaders
- Practices for reporting, tracking, and notifying exposed individuals
Draft a comprehensive safety plan that accounts for all conceivable situations—or, at a minimum, provides flexibility in the event of a workplace outbreak.
While the primary function of the safety policy should be prevention, reaction planning is just as important. The policy needs to serve employees in any capacity—whether they’re confirmed to have COVID-19, a coworker has it, they’re unconfirmed but exhibiting symptoms, or there’s a confirmed outbreak affecting multiple staff members.
Stay apprised of best practices and update your policy
Like any safety guidance, your workplace COVID-19 policy should evolve as best practices do. As we (hopefully) near the end of the coronavirus pandemic, organizations like the CDC, WHO, and OSHA will continue to update best practices and provide recommendations to improve workplace safety. Employers need to monitor for new guidance and update policies.
There’s practical need for a workplace coronavirus workplace safety policy, now and in the future. Not only are there still concerns about long this pandemic will last, it’s worth considering how much holdover there will be in workplace impact. And what about the next pandemic or global contagion? For businesses operating through COVID-19, there’s no excuse not to be prepared for the future.
Keep reading: Coronavirus Workplace Resources