Steps to Reduce Office Employees’ Risk of Exposure to COVID-19

Posted by Ken Low on

How a COVID-19 Outbreak Could Affect Workplaces

Similar to influenza viruses, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has the potential to cause extensive outbreaks.

Under conditions associated with widespread person-to- person spread, multiple areas of the United States and other countries may see impacts at the same time. In the absence  of a vaccine, an outbreak may also be an extended event. As a result, workplaces may experience:

  • Absenteeism . Workers could be absent because they are sick; are caregivers for sick family members; are caregivers for children if schools or day care centers are closed; have at-risk people at home,  such  as  immunocompromised family members; or are afraid to come to work because of fear of possible
  • Change in patterns of commerce . Consumer demand for items related to infection prevention (e.g., respirators) is likely to increase significantly, while consumer interest in other goods may decline. Consumers may also change shopping patterns because of a COVID-19 Consumers may try to shop at off-peak hours to reduce contact with other people, show increased interest in home delivery services, or prefer other options, such as drive- through service, to reduce person-to-person contact.
  • Interrupted supply/delivery . Shipments of items from geographic areas severely affected by COVID-19 may be delayed or cancelled with or without notification.

 

Steps All Employers Can Take to Reduce Workers’ Risk of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2

This section describes basic steps that every employer can take to reduce the risk of worker exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in their workplace. Later sections of this guidance—including those focusing on jobs classified as having low, medium, high, and very high exposure risks— provide specific recommendations for employers and workers within specific risk categories.

 

Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan

If one does not already exist, develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that can help guide protective actions against COVID-19.

Stay abreast of guidance from federal, state, local, tribal, and/or territorial health agencies, and consider how to incorporate those recommendations and resources into workplace-specific plans.

Plans should consider and address the level(s) of risk associated with various worksites and job tasks workers perform at those sites. Such considerations may include:

  • Where, how, and to what sources of SARS-CoV-2 might workers be exposed, including:

{ The general public, customers, and coworkers; and

{ Sick individuals or those at particularly high risk of infection (e.g., international travelers who have

visited locations with widespread sustained (ongoing) COVID-19 transmission, healthcare workers who have had unprotected exposures to people known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19).

  • Non-occupational risk factors at home and in community settings.

  • Workers’ individual risk factors (e.g., older age; presence of chronic medical conditions, including immunocompromising conditions; pregnancy).
  • Controls necessary to address those

Follow federal and state, local, tribal, and/or territorial (SLTT) recommendations regarding development of contingency plans for situations that may arise as a result of outbreaks, such as:

  • Increased rates of worker
  • The need for social distancing, staggered work shifts, downsizing operations, delivering services remotely, and other exposure-reducing
  • Options for conducting essential operations with a reduced workforce, including cross-training workers across different jobs in order to continue operations or deliver surge
  • Interrupted supply chains or delayed

Plans should also consider and address the other steps that employers can take to reduce the risk of worker exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in their workplace, described in the sections below.

 

Prepare to Implement Basic Infection Prevention Measures

For most employers, protecting workers will depend on emphasizing basic infection prevention measures. As appropriate, all employers should implement good hygiene and infection control practices, including:

  • Promote frequent and thorough hand washing, including by providing workers, customers, and worksite visitors with a place to wash their hands. If soap and running water are not immediately available, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60%
  • Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick.
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and

  • Provide customers and the public with tissues and trash receptacles.
  • Employers should explore whether they can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others if state and local health authorities recommend the use of social distancing
  • Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when
  • Maintain regular housekeeping practices, including routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. When choosing cleaning chemicals, employers should consult information on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved disinfectant labels with claims against emerging viral pathogens. Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 based on data for harder to kill viruses. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use of all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, PPE).

 

Develop Policies and Procedures for Prompt Identification and Isolation of Sick People, if Appropriate

  • Prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious individuals is a critical step in protecting workers, customers, visitors, and others at a
  • Employers should inform and encourage employees to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 if they suspect possible exposure.
  • Employers should develop policies and procedures for employees to report when they are sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Where appropriate, employers should develop policies and procedures for immediately isolating people who have signs and/or symptoms of COVID-19, and train workers to implement them. Move potentially infectious people to a location away from workers, customers, and other visitors. Although most worksites do not have specific isolation rooms, designated areas with closable doors may serve as

isolation rooms until potentially sick people can be removed from the worksite.

  • Take steps to limit spread of the respiratory secretions of a person who may have COVID-19. Provide a face mask, if feasible and available, and ask the person to wear it, if tolerated. Note: A face mask (also called a surgical mask, procedure mask, or other similar terms) on a patient or other sick person should not be confused with PPE for

a worker; the mask acts to contain potentially infectious respiratory secretions at the source (i.e., the person’s nose and mouth).

  • If possible, isolate people suspected of having COVID-19 separately from those with confirmed cases of the virus to prevent further transmission—particularly in worksites where medical screening, triage, or healthcare activities

occur, using either permanent (e.g., wall/different room) or temporary barrier (e.g., plastic sheeting).

  • Restrict the number of personnel entering isolation
  • Protect workers in close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) a sick person or who have prolonged/repeated contact with such persons by using additional engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE. Workers whose activities involve close or prolonged/ repeated contact with sick people are addressed further in

later sections covering workplaces classified at medium and very high or high exposure risk.


Develop, Implement, and Communicate about Workplace Flexibilities and Protections

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these
  • Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave
  • Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely
  • Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
  • Recognize that workers with ill family members may need to stay home to care for them. See CDC’s Interim Guidance for Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in Homes and Residential Communities: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019- ncov/hcp/guidance-prevent-spread.html.
  • Be aware of workers’ concerns about pay, leave, safety, health, and other issues that may arise during infectious disease outbreaks. Provide adequate, usable, and appropriate training, education, and informational material about business-essential job functions and worker health and safety, including proper hygiene practices and the use of any workplace controls (including PPE). Informed workers who feel safe at work are less likely to be unnecessarily absent.
  • Work with insurance companies (e.g., those providing employee health benefits) and state and local health agencies to provide information to workers and customers about medical care in the event of a COVID-19

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