6 precautions facilities should take as workers return
By David R. Schack & Cecile Felsher
Manufacturing and construction industries are looking to mitigate risk from COVID-19 before bringing employees back to work. Companies in these industries should develop a plan that includes safety protocols and contingency measures should an employee fall ill. A safety plan should include the following:
1. Assess the condition of the workplace. Has a skeleton crew continued onsite? If so, decontamination should be considered. Contrast that scenario to a site that sat empty for the last four weeks.
If a decision is made to “decontaminate” surfaces, special care should be taken in selecting where cleaning products are used and how they are used. Make sure you select cleaning chemicals that are compatible with surfaces being cleaned to avoid chemical reactions and/or damage to surfaces.
The CDC currently recommends cleaning surfaces first with soap and water, and then applying a disinfectant. It is important to ensure that the disinfectant is properly applied and is done so in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and the USEPA. Refer to the “USEPA List N” to make sure the product you select is approved. Information provided by the USEPA will include guidance for dwell or contact time-which is the time required for the disinfectant to be effective.
It is also important to make sure that employees who are conducting the cleaning have proper training and personal protective equipment (PPE).
If your workplace has been closed for a long period of time, it is important to ensure that building systems are working properly and safely. Exercise your plumbing system to flush water, check to make sure that HVAC equipment is properly working. Ensure that cooling towers, condensation pans and other potential reservoirs are free of biofilm and have been properly treated with chemicals to avoid potential legionella exposure.
2. Develop plans on how to accommodate returning workers while maintaining safe distancing. This goes for workstations, but also other locations, such as lunchrooms. Staggering shifts is an option.
Identify high-traffic locations within the workplace where close contact with other employees cannot be avoided and develop a plan to safely avoid close contact.
Assess workstations and determine if safe physical distancing can be maintained, if not it may be possible to stagger shifts to avoid contact. Consider installing barriers that eliminate potential for close contact.
Sharing of food should not be allowed, which unfortunately means traditions like birthday celebrations and employee pot-lucks must be discontinued.
Limit face to face interactions as much as possible. While interacting with other employees, safe distancing must be maintained.
3. Establish schedules for cleaning various surfaces.
High touch surfaces should be cleaned regularly. Again, it is important to make sure disinfectants are used properly, and employees are properly trained and protected to use them. Regular cleaning reminders should be made via signage, intercom or PA, and even through computer terminals. Workstations and all high touch areas should be outfitted with easy to access cleaning supplies.
4. Create monitoring procedures. For example, this could include temperature checks for workers.
Many states are requiring temperature checks for employees as a condition entering the workplace. Selecting the right monitoring program and equipment should take into consideration ease and accuracy of use, privacy of employees and the safety of those conducting the surveillance. The use of no-touch, thermal scanners has been used effectively.
The use of employee questionnaires should also be considered to assist with evaluating risks of employees returning to work. Consider asking questions about known exposure to sick individuals, travel and/or contact with individuals who have traveled recently.
5. Develop contingency plans if somebody at a plant or site comes down with COVID-19.
Planning a response is critical to business continuity. If an employee or employees become ill, it is important to act quickly. Isolate areas where they have been in the facility. It is important to be able to document where they have been and who they have been in contact with.
Clean areas where the affected employee(s) have frequented the facility. Consider contracting with a firm specializing in “deep cleaning.” It is extremely important to document that cleaning is conducted properly, and in accordance with OSHA and CDC guidance.
Within privacy requirements and re- porting requirements, communicate to other staff who could have been in contact with the infected employee.
Review OSHA reporting requirements to determine if a workplace illness must be documented or reported.
6. While it is critically important for us to get our economy going again, doing so will require employers in manufacturing to take special precautions if they are among the first to go back to work.
As things are evolving rapidly, it is important to monitor developments to keep your employees as safe as possible. OSHA and the CDC are providing on-going updates to guidelines. Local governments and health departments also are providing ongoing advice.
David R. Schack, CAC, CDPH-IA, is VP, and Cecile Felsher, CIH, is a Senior Staff Consultant, at NV5, a leading provider of profession- al and technical engineering and consulting solutions.
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