As more businesses and services start to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, many workers in Canada and the US feel nervous about their safety and exposure to the virus. People around both countries are even refusing to go back to work after they are called if they feel it is unsafe.
Every industry will require different equipment and procedures to create a safe working environment. It is important to ensure that your organization complies with federal and state/provincial safety requirements related to COVID-19. Below are some effective strategies that can help workers feel more comfortable about returning to work.
1. Clearly explain the workplace safety rules and procedures to all staff
Many people will feel better knowing that everyone is expected to follow health and safety rules. Have a detailed orientation with all of the staff about these procedures by audio or video. Put all of the information in an accessible place like an intranet, email, or printed handout.
For example, a hair salon would tell their staff that everyone has to wash their hands before and after each cut with a customer and a limited number of customers will be allowed in the salon at any given time. At an office, management can tell employees that they will work 2 metres apart from each other whenever possible. They may also recommend that they not use other workers’ phones, desk, and equipment.
2. Ensure there is enough personal protective equipment for workers and customers
People can feel more at ease knowing that their employers will provide everything they need to be safe. Every workplace will have different equipment needs like face masks, face shields, plexiglass, and gloves.
Keeping workers safe also involves ensuring that customers are also following best practices. Some guidelines organizations follow include having hand sanitizer on hand, asking customers to wear a mask before they can if they enter a store, and have marks on the floor of where people should stand in line to keep a safe distance.
3. Ensure common areas or equipment are disinfected after use
A World Health Organization study shows that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for several hours to days depending on a few factors including the temperature of the environment and the type of material it lives on. Coronavirus can live up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic.
Given this information, staff in many organizations and business settings routinely sanitize equipment or common areas. There are employees who are solely designated to disinfect shopping carts, store clerks who wipe down payment machines after every customer makes a purchase, and gas attendants who clean the payment machine after someone makes a fill.
4. Have signage around the workplace to remind people of best practices
There may be a lot of details for people to remember about workplace safety procedures, especially if they are anxious about coming back to work. So in addition to people being able to access all of the safety information on a document, make sure there is visible signage around the workplace to remind them of best practices.
Some suggestions for signage:
- Bathroom sink: Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Office walls: Keep 2 metres distance as much as possible from people, wear a mask if you aren’t able to keep a safe distance from other people, and to stay home if you don’t feel well.
- Kitchen area: Please wipe down the table after eating.
Allow a flexible work structure to limit physical contact
There are a few ways organizations have been restructuring the work environment to reduce physical contact. Many of them have told their staff to work from home and keep in touch by using programs like Zoom or Slack. If people have to go to work, teams take turns coming to work on designated days so the workplace doesn’t have too many people at one time.
Many schools have put their curriculum online while health care providers are doing video consultations or telling patients results over the phone rather than having them wait in long lines at the clinic.
There are a variety of strategies employers can use to help their staff feel more at ease and safe as they return to the workplace. These are effective safety practices you can implement:
Clearly explain the workplace safety rules and procedures to all staff
- Ensure there is enough personal protective equipment for workers and customers
- Ensure common areas or equipment are disinfected after use
- Have signage around the workplace to remind people of best practices
- Allow a flexible work structure to limit physical contact