Recommendations aim to help employers protect workers, clients and others while slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued updated guidance on how to open office buildings safely. "COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings" offers steps that office building employers, owners and managers, and operations specialists can take "to create a safe and healthy workplace for workers and clients."
Employers are encouraged to review and incorporate the recommendations into their reopening plans. They should also review and comply with applicable state and local mandates. The CDC recommends that employers:
Create a COVID-19 workplace health and safety plan
The CDC suggests employers start by reviewing its "Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers," which says that, as necessary, all employers should implement and update a plan that:
- Is specific to their workplace,
- Identifies all areas and job tasks with potential exposures to SARS-CoV-2, and
- Includes control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures.
Protect staff and others to slow the spread
The CDC offers specific, detailed guidance on how to:
1) check the building before resuming business operations to see if it's ready for occupancy;
2) identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work; and
3) develop hazard controls using a specific hierarchy of controls to reduce transmission among workers.
Employers are further advised to use a combination of engineering controls to isolate workers from hazards and administrative controls to change the way people work.
Engineering controls include furniture and spacing modifications and physical barriers to help "maintain social distancing of 6 feet between employees, where possible," along with methods such as using signs, tape marks or other visual cues to help physically separate employees in all areas of the building. Multiple considerations for improving building ventilation are also given.
Administrative controls include recommendations to "encourage employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 to notify their supervisor and stay home." Employers should "consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks" and "stagger shifts, start times, and break times as feasible to reduce the number of employees in common areas." The guidance includes additional recommendations and detailed instructions for enhancing cleaning and disinfecting of the workplace.
Educate employees and supervisors
Recommended topics include signs and symptoms of infection, staying home when ill, social distancing, cloth face coverings, hand hygiene practices, and identifying and minimizing potential routes of transmission at work, at home and in the community.
Develop special considerations for elevators and escalators
Recommendations include encouraging employees to take stairs when possible and to use cloth face coverings. Signs, floor markings and other visual cues are recommended to reinforce social distancing. Considerations include limiting the number of people in elevators and escalators, posting reminders to avoid touching surfaces, and reminding people to wash their hands and avoid touching their face. Supplemental air ventilation may also be added.
Take actions to maintain a healthy work environment
The CDC says employers should read the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to learn about more recommendations for creating new sick leave policies, cleaning and employee communication policies to help protect workers and clients.
The extensive CDC guidance concludes with a list of links for employers to access more information and support as they reopen their offices. Each employer will have a unique return-to-work plan based on its own workspace, type of work/industry and employee base. Businesses clearly have a lot to do as they reopen offices amid COVID-19. The CDC's guidance offers them a valuable, practical and detailed framework for reopening in ways that reduce the risk of exposures to the virus and promote operational continuity.
Get more insights and best practices on reopening your small business by visitng our COVID-19 Small Business Resource Center.
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