COVID Reopening Resources for Employers
AIHA and NSC Reopening Guidance for Employers
The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and National Safety Council (NSC) both released guidelines and resources for employers reopening workplaces as state COVID-19 stay-at-home orders begin to expire. AIHA collected guidelines for several industries on its newly launched https://www.backtoworksafely.org/ website. NSC published a reopening framework based on recommendations of the Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER) task force the group launched April 23.
The SAFER task force started with 48 members and has added another 18, including the International Safety Equipment Association, National Association of Realtors, and food services and facilities management group, Sodexo. The SAFER group includes experts from Fortune 500 companies, leading safety organizations, nonprofits, government agencies, and public health organizations. The task force includes AIHA and the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP).
Resources on AIHA’s site include guidelines for at-home service providers, construction, general office settings, gyms and workout facilities, hair and nail salons, retail stores, restaurants, and limousine, rideshare, and taxi services.
Other AIHA resources include factsheets on building re-entry and the proper use of respirators for healthcare workers and first responders and guidelines for workplace cleaning for COVID-19. The association warned that buildings that sat unused or with low occupancy may contain indoor environmental hazards like Legionella bacteria or mold.
AIHA encouraged employers to use enhanced cleaning and disinfection methods along with other risk mitigation measures rather than waiting for a confirmed workplace case of COVID-19 before responding. AIHA also encourages employers to establish a team of environmental service technicians trained in the proper use and limitations of PPE, personal hygiene protocols, and the mixing and application of approved cleaning and disinfecting agents.
Employers should identify and purchase EPA-registered disinfectants that meet the criteria for use against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to AIHA. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, first identified in Wuhan City, China in December 2019, causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.
NSC warned in its SAFER framework that employers will need to address six key areas in reopening:
- Physical environments, such as buildings, facilities, and operations, as well as, new physical distancing protocols;
- Medical health considerations like screening employees for cases of COVID-19 and implementing hygiene and infection control practices;
- Stress, emotional, and mental health considerations that may require reliance on Employee Assistance Programs;
- Employment, legal, and human resources considerations, including plans for reintegrating employees who have recovered from COVID-19 and resolving liability issues surrounding work at home flexibility and return to work;
- Communicating new policies such as revised entrance procedures; and
- External considerations involving clients, customers, vendors, and state and local government agencies.
NSC warned employers they may need to adapt to future restrictions, including cities, counties and states that reimpose stay-at-home orders or issue other restrictions on operations. Employers also should be mindful of risks to older employees and employees with chronic health conditions.
Reopening Guidance from CDC, OSHA, and EPA
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published guidance for employers reopening their businesses as states lift stay-at-home orders issued this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, first identified in Wuhan City, China in December 2019.
The CDC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their “Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes.” The CDC also updated its “General Business Frequently Asked Questions,” (FAQs) a supplement to earlier interim guidelines for businesses and employers and critical infrastructure workers.
The CDC and EPA recommended employers and school administrators develop, implement, maintain, and regularly revise plans for cleaning and disinfecting public-facing businesses, schools, workplaces, and other public spaces. EPA has compiled a list of disinfectant products that can be used against COVID-19.
The recommended framework for cleaning and disinfecting involves:
- Normal routine cleaning with soap and water to decrease the amount of the virus on surfaces and objects, thereby reducing the risk of exposure;
- Frequent disinfection of surfaces and objects touched by multiple people with EPA-approved disinfectants;
- Using alternative disinfectants when EPA-approved disinfectants are not available, such as 70% alcohol solutions or 1/3 cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water – being careful not to mix bleach or other cleaning and disinfection products together, which can cause dangerous fumes.
Bleach solutions remain effective for disinfection up to 24 hours.
The CDC’s FAQs cover recommended precautions for employees with special risks. Older adults (65 years and older) and people with serious underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for severe illness and death if they become infected. The CDC suggested strategies that include implementing telework and other social distancing practices, such as maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others, promoting handwashing, and wearing cloth face coverings in addition to social distancing practices.
The CDC also suggested providing supplies and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for cleaning and disinfecting workspaces.
Employers may want to screen workers for COVID-19 symptoms using temperature checks; but the CDC recommended protecting screeners with social distancing or physical barriers, such as a glass or plastic window or partition. Employers also could provide screeners with PPE that could include eye protection like goggles or a disposable face shield, disposable gloves, and gowns.
Respirator Refresher from OSHA
OSHA released reminders of proper respirator donning and doffing that include:
- Washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol before putting on and after removing a respirator;
- Inspecting respirators for damage;
- Covering mouth and nose with the respirator, then pulling the first strap over the head so that it rests at the back of the head and pulling the second strap over the head so that it crosses over the other strap and rests at the back of the neck;
- Using the metal nose clips on the respirator, molding it to the shape of the nose;
- Establishing a tight seal on the respirator by placing both hands over it then inhaling and exhaling;
- Readjusting the straps if air leaks from the respirator’s edges;
- Avoid touching the respirator while wearing it;
- Removing the respirator by grabbing the straps from behind, being mindful not to touch the front of the respirator; and
- Discarding the respirator in a closed-bin waste receptacle if it does not need to be reused because of supply shortages.
A properly worn respirator can both help reduce the wearer’s risk of viral exposure and help prevent the virus’s spread to others.