Now that vaccine distribution has begun, many businesses are preparing to return to the office. Drip Hydration has put together this office reopening guide that explores the recommendations and requirements of various agencies, and what that means for employers of office-operating businesses.
How Covid-19 spreads
In order to understand why these various strategies are effective, you must first understand how Covid-19 spreads. Covid-19 primarily spreads via respiratory droplets produced when people talk, sing, sneeze, or cough. People get infected when they inhale droplets in the air when in close contact with an infected person, or when they touch a surface contaminated with the virus and subsequently touch their face, especially eyes, mouth, or nose.
It is important to note that a person without symptoms can still spread the virus, so you should err on the side of caution even if someone doesn’t look or seem sick.
The hierarchy of controls
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed a system called the ‘Hierarchy of Controls’ that evaluates risks to workers and makes recommendations on how best to protect them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have created guidance that applies the Hierarchy of Controls to reopening office buildings safely during the pandemic, which will be highlighted in this article.
Engineering controls – isolating workers from hazards
Below are some examples of workplace changes employers can make to ensure workplace safety.
Confirm the building is ready for occupancy by:
- Resolving any issues related to prolonged facility shutdown, like mold, pests and rodents, or stagnant water systems
- Certifying that ventilation systems are properly working and enhancing them where possible
- Creating protocols that discourage gathering in bottleneck areas and encourage social distancing with multiple points of entry or marked pathways
Identify where and how workers are mostly likely to be exposed. Consider the following as you conduct a thorough hazard assessment:
- Include all employees at all levels in communication plans, from management to relief employees to janitorial and maintenance staff
- Identify areas in which social distancing is a challenge and look at solutions like modified layouts or transparent shields to separate workers
- Reinforce good hygiene by setting up and maintaining sanitation stations in high-traffic areas
- Reinforce social distancing by using visual cues like signs, colored tape, and floor decals
Reduce opportunities for infection by reducing touch points, including:
- Eliminating use of communal tools and items
- Replacing bulk shared items like snacks with pre-packaged, single serve items
- Using mobile or touchless technologies for attendance or check-in
Administrative controls – changing how people work
Here are some highlights from the CDC’s guidance about best practices designed to reduce transmission of the virus both before and after your office reopening.
If someone gets sick in the office, you should:
- Immediately isolate them from the rest of the occupants
- Arrange for them to have private transport home or to a medical care facility
- Anyone within 6 feet should be considered exposed and follow CDC guidelines on what to do if you are sick
- The sick person’s workspace should be cleaned and sanitized
- Follow protocol to notify local health departments for contact tracing purposes
Build flexibility into your schedule:
- Stagger shifts, start times, and break times as feasible to reduce the number of employees in common areas at any given time
- Have supportive sick and home isolation policies, taking care to not seem punitive towards anyone who gets sick (this could lead people to hide their illness, leading to an office-wide outbreak)
- Be sensitive to employees with needs related to high risk of severe illness, as well as chronic conditions exacerbated by the pandemic
Training and communication is one of the most valuable risk management strategies you can utilize is strong communication and education. This may look like:
- Designating a point person for all Covid-related inquiries and concerns, making sure all employees know who this person is and how to contact them
- Educating employees on the signs of Covid-19 and encouraging them to report if they develop symptoms, have been exposed, or test positive for Covid-19
- Educating employees on proper cleaning and sanitizing techniques
Empower employees to stop the spread:
- Make sure employees have unrestricted access to hand sanitizer, cleaning and disinfectant supplies, and PPE equipment like gloves and facial masks or other coverings
- Consider providing employees with reusable cloth masks and encourage employees to utilize them in line with CDC recommendations
- Make sure you allow employees extra time to complete enhanced cleaning and hygiene duties when creating daily schedules
The importance of health screenings and testing for your office reopening
Health screenings and employee testing are powerful tools to combat the transmission of Covid-19 and make your office reopening as safe as possible. Health screenings can be conducted by the employer in the form of on-site temperature checks or health questionnaires. Employers may also opt to have employees do self-screenings by completing questionnaires at home before departing for work. Businesses who wish to have oversight on health screenings should consider conducting them virtually before employees depart for work.
Employers should explore providing employees with information on how they can access testing in the event they develop symptoms or find out they were exposed to the virus. Businesses should also remain aware of the accessibility of testing in their area – waits multiple hours long and shortages of testing supplies have been reported in areas with high rates of infection.
Some businesses have opted to utilize on-site medical services providers like Drip Hydration to visit their offices and test employees. Appointments can be made as needed or contracted on an ongoing basis. This is an appealing option because it reduces the risk of exposure presented by visiting a testing center, and has a faster turnaround time on receiving results than free clinics. Employees appreciate the peace of mind, and having a nurse administer the tests.
Additional resources for office reopening
- CDC Covid-19 General Guidance for Businesses and Employers
- OSHA Covid-19 Guidance
- OSHA Hazard Identification
- US Department of Labor – Covid 19 and FMLA
- US Department of Labor – Families First Coronavirus Response Act Q&A
- EEOC – Covid 19 and the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws
- CDC Resuming Business Toolkit
It is extremely important for employers and business owners to remain aware of the local restrictions and alerts which may affect your office reopening. Information about mandates for a few major metropolitan areas are linked below; offices in other areas should consult their local health departments, regulatory agencies, and/or licensing agencies for further guidance on how to comply with local health orders.
Drip Hydration Can Help Make Your Office Reopening Safe
Committing to employee testing as part of a safe office reopening not only enables you to prevent outbreaks, it also inspires confidence in employees and clients that your policies are thorough and put safety first. Whether you are an office large or small, contact Drip Hydration today for a consultation. With as little as 24 hours notice, one of our skilled nurses can visit your office building and administer tests to you and your employees. If someone tests positive, our medical professionals can advise them on what to do next, and help you resume operations quickly.
We offer progressive discount pricing for groups and ongoing appointments, so our services might not be as expensive as you think. Employees may be interested to hear that our discounts apply to in-home services too, and that PPO insurance holders may get partial reimbursement for our services.
Drip Hydration is proud to serve businesses of all types and sizes. Contact us today!