Methods to Mitigate Exposure to the COVID-19 Virus
In a Pandemic environment, learning and quickly implementing new safety efforts is a challenge as we try to thoroughly understand the nature of the COVID-19 virus and inherent risks. Over the last few weeks, a process has emerged that can take business owners through a step by step analysis of procedures that reduce the risk of infection in the workplace. Each step is explained in terms of the timeline and relevancy within the environment. Some of the solutions are not immediately possible, and others may be implemented as temporary measures.
The first part of evaluating safety conditions is to discuss the elimination of the virus. It is clear that it will take months to create, test, and deliver a vaccine. Since it won’t be available anytime soon, you must find a way to keep the virus from finding a host. Some workplaces have great difficulty in making this happen due to the nature of the business. Reducing the size of gatherings and employees to allow for 6 feet of space between individuals may take some creativity. For restaurant owners, fewer tables, patrons, and staff maintains safer distances from each other. Corporate spaces are allowing more remote work, reducing the number of people in the office. Technology has enabled business consultants to communicate without being in the same room with clients. Some of these changes may become permanent as they can increase efficiency and control any future outbreaks.
The second part of the safety analysis is the possibility of substitution. Is there any way to make the virus less potent? This typically takes medications that can reduce symptoms and make them more manageable. At the moment, we don’t have medicines that have been proven effective, but efforts are being made. As potential products become available, you will need to inform employees about the newest ways to protect themselves from infection or recover more quickly from illness. Reducing the number of severe cases and possible deaths will make everyone feel more secure at work and promote a positive environment.
The next consideration is engineering controls such as glass barriers and ventilation equipment that prevent the spread of the virus from host to host. These items must be created and customized for the environment. Examples include retail spaces where consumers must interact with an individual to make a purchase or a warehouse where many employees are present to store, organize, and deliver items. Each has a different type of risk requiring a unique solution.
You also need to enhanced engineering controls by modifying administrative controls. Changes must be made to procedures at work that prevent the spread of the virus, such as limiting the number of people working together, the amount of contact necessary to complete a task, and ensuring employees are compliant with the changes at all times. Notifications by email, new signage, and periodic announcements should be made as reminders of the importance of adhering to these processes.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Finally, PPE in the form of gloves, masks, and other protective clothing requires the availability of the products and training on how to use it correctly. It is the most immediate and least expensive fix if everyone uses it according to instructions. Again, it is necessary to remind everyone that they must use the PPE properly to effectively avoid exposure and spread of the virus.
Employers should prepare themselves and their workers with continuity planning as far in advance as possible for future outbreak conditions. Failure to provide sufficient resources and adequate training will compromise your business’s success and the safety of your employees.
You must understand the workplace hazard controls for COVID-19 outlined by Occupational Safety and Health (OSH). The recommendations depend on the workplace and tasks being performed, sources of exposure, the severity of the disease in the community, and risk factors of vulnerable workers.
Use workplace guidance and support as you begin to reopen and resume operations safely.
Alberta’s Relaunch Began May 14, 2020: https://www.alberta.ca/index.aspx
Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, 2020: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
Spigarelli, C. 2020. Understanding the Hierarchy of Controls Through a Pandemic: https://www.assp.org/docs/default-source/psj-articles/cpspigarelli_0520.pdf
Workplace hazard controls for COVID-19,2019: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workplace_hazard_controls_for_COVID-19