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An employer’s guide to safely resuming work after the pandemic closures

Tom Jensen, Senior Safety Consultant

Jon VonderHaar, Safety Consultant

Pinnacol Assurance does just one thing and does it better than anyone: provide caring workers’ compensation protection to Colorado employers and employees.

Colorado businesses are continuing the gradual transition from pandemic-induced closings to reentry mode.

While every business is making changes to reopen safely, there’s no single approach that will work for everyone. Employers must stay flexible and focused.

“This will be a continuous improvement process — not something where you set up your plan, open your doors and you’re ready to go,” says Jon VonderHaar, safety consultant at Pinnacol. “It will be constantly evolving. Guidance may change based on the information coming in.”

To help you prepare, ask yourself these four questions when creating your reentry strategy.

 

‍Whom will the reopening impact?

Knowing who can report to work is critical to operations planning. Start by identifying vulnerable populations, such as workers over age 65 or those who have diabetes or heart conditions. You cannot compel these employees to return to on-site work, and you must continue to provide accommodations for them to work from home.

You should have the right equipment and support available to enable remote workers, such as storing key information off-site and creating a communication protocol.

You should also offer flexible schedules or remote work opportunities to employees with eldercare or childcare responsibilities and to those who have a vulnerable individual in their household.

Once you know who can and can’t return to the work site, make adjustments that accommodate changes in work, such as:

  • Assigning temporary duties to employees as appropriate.
  • Making training considerations for any employee taking on new or different tasks. This can mean you provide training for temporary assignments or according to new workplace practices (e.g., hand hygiene and cleaning/disinfecting protocols).
  • Training returning workers in things such as the proper way to wash their hands. You may need to document these trainings, per new statewide and countywide policies.
  • Reviewing leave benefits for employees at home and on the work site.

 

Where will the reopening occur?

Make your building a healthy environment where your team can thrive.

  • Protect worker health by checking HVAC and water services and increasing fresh air with ventilation. Follow American Industrial Hygiene Association guidance upon reopening your building so it does not contribute to illness.
  • Clean and disinfect the work area according to the latest guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use recommended disinfecting techniques, employing the right products and paying attention to all surfaces, including those commonly touched and in common gathering areas. Don’t forget shared vehicles.
  • Introduce new processes for employees at the work site, such as monitoring symptoms and taking temperatures before starting a shift. Be sure you are following applicable laws regarding handling of this medical information.
  • Encourage social distancing by erecting physical barriers separating employees from the public and spacing out workstations. Set up a directional traffic flow to reduce interactions. Limit the number of people going in and out of your company.
  • Change the traffic flow of waiting rooms. Ask visitors to phone or text the receptionist from their cars when they arrive and to wait to be contacted before they enter the office.
  • Avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
  • Hold virtual meetings.
  • Remove furniture from common rooms to discourage lingering.
  • If your employees are in the field, working on a job site or in customers’ homes, make sure that you have safety protocols in place that include hygiene practices and social distancing.
  • Use the COVID-19 checklists to conduct inspections at your workplace or job site on a regular basis.

 

Workplaces with more than 50 employees on-site must implement more strategies. Either develop a business policy or set up stations for temperature checks and symptom screenings, close your common areas, and implement mandatory cleaning and disinfection protocols.

 

When will the reopening happen?     

Have a reopening target date in mind. Consider the unique aspects of your operations while planning reopening. It could take hours or weeks to get ready.

“So much depends on the scope of the business’s operation,” notes Tom Jensen, OHST and senior safety consultant at Pinnacol. “Are they a small retailer with 1,000 square feet of space where everyone does the same job, or are they a larger business with multiple operations and types of work, with vehicles, tools and equipment?”

You may need to set new hours of operation if you lack the staff to maintain your old hours. Staggered starts and shifts can reduce the number of employees on-site at any given time.

Reduce peak traffic in and out of the facility by setting off-peak office hours, such as after 5 p.m. or before 8 a.m. This is one way to offer scheduling flexibility to vulnerable workers or those with a vulnerable person in the household.

Eliminate shared workspaces if you can, and assign equipment mindfully. The more people who use that one space or thing, the more you have to clean.

 

How will you lead the reopening?

Determining how to implement changes may be the most challenging aspect for many businesses. “Give different things a try and see what works. As mentioned earlier, this is a continuous improvement process,” Vonder Haar says.

To promote the health and safety of employees, employers must follow measures required by the public health order. These activities include: ‍

  • Appointing a workplace coordinator.
  • Posting signage promoting good hygiene.
  • Ordering thermometers and hand sanitizer right away, as such supplies have been difficult to find.
  • Creating procedures for symptom screening and reporting forms.‍
  • Outlining requirements for handling medical information and maintaining medical records.
  • Encouraging appropriate protective gear, such as masks.
  • Finding industry-specific recommendations regarding personal protective equipment.
  • Requiring sick employees to stay home.
  • Advising employees about leave and benefits programs through your human resources department, the state and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Providing equipment and supplies to encourage regular hand-washing and sanitizing. ‍
  • Training employees in procedure changes, hygiene practices and OSHA requirements, such as HazCom for cleaning and disinfecting, and use of respirators and PPE.

Your coordinator can also study industry-specific guidance and requirements from the CDPHE, which cover:

  • Critical and noncritical retail.
  • Field services.
  • Noncritical office-based businesses and offices.
  • Personal services.
  • Limited health care settings, such as medical, dental and veterinary.
  • Non-critical manufacturing.

In addition to looking out for the safety of your employees, you also need to account for customers, patients or vendors who come through your doors. Eliminate direct contact when possible by using electronic correspondence, no-touch trash containers, gloves and masks, and contactless payment methods. Other precautions include:

  • Setting up hand sanitizer dispensers at entrances.
  • Dedicating hours for vulnerable individuals only.
  • Screening visitors for symptoms before they enter.

 

Find more resources to help you keep employees safe and schedule a free virtual safety consultation at covid.pinnacol.com.