Returning to Work: Safety Tips to Maintain Employee Health

Returning to Work after Lockdown: Guidance to Safeguard Employee Health

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To help limit the spread of COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic, many businesses worldwide temporarily closed or curtailed operations. When the worst of the outbreak ends and governments allow businesses to reopen, there are steps organizations need to take to protect their employees, customers and contractors. It’s important to keep in mind that guidance in this area is constantly evolving—if you’re considering policies surrounding worker safety, make sure to consult official government and public health protection sources for the latest information. Here is the general guidance to get you started.

1. Provide Employees with the Right Supplies and Support

Empower your employees to protect their own health and the health of their co-workers by providing what they need to stay safe, including:

  • Facemasks and gloves.
    If possible, provide your employees with facemasks and gloves—or encourage them to bring their own. Require employees to wear facemasks and gloves in accordance with the guidance of government public health authorities.
  • Cleaning supplies.
    Ask your employees to clean their work areas and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at the end of each shift. Provide sufficient supplies to complete this task.
  • Extra time for handwashing.
    When employees take breaks—especially for lunch—provide them with enough time to thoroughly wash their hands before and after eating. Recommend that employees wash their hands at the start and end of their shifts as well.

  • Paid time off.
    Encourage employees to stay home—and seek medical care—if they feel ill or have COVID-19 symptoms by providing sufficient paid sick leave.
  • Support for physical and mental health.
    Returning to work may be especially stressful for some employees. Offer your employees convenient access to services for both mental and physical health.

2. Support a Healthy Workplace with Operational Changes

In addition to empowering your employees to protect and care for themselves, consider making operational changes that will support employee health.

  • Clean and disinfect your workplace.
  • Before reopening, clean and disinfect all work and rest areas, including the pantries—and determine whether you are required to comply with industry-specific disinfection and sterilization requirements. Ventilate work areas as well. Routine cleaning and disinfection should continue once you reopen.

  • Screen employees and site visitors for fever.
  • Where permitted by applicable laws and regulations, when employees arrive for their shift, screen them for fever before they enter the workplace. Employees with elevated temperatures should be sent home and encouraged to seek medical care if needed. Screen customers, contractors, suppliers, and other site visitors as well.
  • Support social distancing.
  • Take steps to ensure that employees keep 6 feet (2 meters) away from other people, including co-workers and customers. To maintain social distancing, consider taking the following actions:
    • Reduce the number of workers per shift—and add shifts if necessary.
    • Stagger shifts so that arriving and departing employees do not overlap.
    • Limit the number of people at in-person meetings.
    • Remove chairs and tables from pantries and break rooms to discourage employees from eating close together.
    • Mark work areas with tape to designate safe gaps between employees.
    • Spread out work stations.
  • Communicate and educate.
  • The transition back to work may be challenging for some employees. You can help address fear and morale—and promote safe operations—by communicating openly and frequently with employees. Educate employees about practices that will help maintain a safe and healthy workplace and let them know about available resources.

3. Special Steps for Some Employees

While general precautions and safety steps will help all employees, you may want to take additional steps to meet the needs of certain members of your workforce.

  • Support employees recovering from COVID-19.
    Ensure that employees who contracted COVID-19 have—and take—a sufficient amount of paid time off work to aid their recovery and protect their co-workers. Provide additional paid time off if needed. Encourage employees to closely monitor their health and seek medical advice if symptoms recur.

  • Continue to support work-from-home employees.
    When you reopen, many employees may still need to work from home. Continue to provide resources to support the health and well-being of your work-from-home employees.
  • Accommodate high-risk employees.
    Older employees and those with pre-existing medical conditions are at higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19. Consider allowing high-risk employees to work from home, delay their return to work, or take on tasks with limited interaction with other people. Be mindful of employee privacy and anti-discrimination rules when supporting employees with greater health risks.

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