Top 5 Considerations for a Safe Return to Work Amid COVID-19

Top 5 Considerations for a Safe Return to Work Amid COVID-19

As in-person operations resume and employees are welcomed back into the workplace, establishing and implementing effective COVID-19 prevention strategies is top priority. Whether you are returning to work or helping develop reopening procedures, it’s important to understand and prepare for COVID-related changes.

Although needs differ by organization, there are five primary factors that employers and employees must consider for a safe return to work amid COVID-19. Use this article and our free downloadable COVID-19 Return-to-Work Checklist based on OSHA’s recent 16-point guidance to prepare for a safe reopening.

1. Updated Safety Protocols

Workplace safety has always been a priority, but COVID-19 has changed the landscape of threat. Regardless of your industry or work environment, there are several changes that must be made before employees return to work. Important considerations include:

  • Physical distancing measuresConsider rearranging the workplace layout to ensure appropriate distancing between employees. This may include staggering shifts and lunch breaks, rotating remote and in-person weeks, and implementing one-way traffic patterns throughout the workplace.
  • Ventilation: Develop and communicate PPE policies and consider opening windows to improve airflow.
  • Sanitization protocols: Implement regular, comprehensive cleaning protocols with EPA-approved COVID-19 disinfectants and encourage employees to regularly wash their hands and sanitize their workstations. Consider providing masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other sanitizing products.
  • Testing and vaccination strategy: Provide clear information about testing and vaccination availability, policies, and expectations.

Updating your workplace safety strategy and implementing health policies, such as sanitization and mask-wearing, will promote workplace safety and facilitate OSHA compliance.

2. Communications Strategy

As employees transition from remote operations and face continuously updated health guidance, communication has never been more important. Employers must regularly share policy updates and employees must be able to easily submit questions and concerns. This not only promotes understanding and compliance with new regulations, but helps employers understand the questions and confusions that employees may have.

OSHA advises that the best practice for effective two-way communication is to use a mobile reporting tool, such as Vector Solutions’s LiveSafe platform. LiveSafe features include broadcast message capabilities, anonymous tip submissions, and organization-specific resources. Learn more about the role of risk intelligence in prevention strategy here.

3. Compliance & Legal Standards

Health and safety standards have been continuously revised throughout the pandemic to reflect updated health and safety guidance. Employers and employees must remain aware of this guidance to remain in compliance and avoid infractions, which can be costly. In fact, over the past year, COVID-related OSHA inspections have yielded over $4 million in citations.

Notable regulations to include:

  • The OSHA General Duty Clause states that in addition to complying with all OSHA standards, employers must give all employees “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards,” including COVID-19. Following the safety protocols described in the section above can help maintain compliance.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights act that prohibits disability-based discrimination. Per ADA, reasonable accommodations must be made for workers with disabilities. This may include altered COVID-19 prevention requirements and exemptions from mandatory workplace vaccination.
  • OSHA Standard 1904.5 requires employers to record work-related COVID-19 illness on Form 300 logs and report it to health departments per local regulations.

Employers must provide a hazard-free work environment with comprehensive, non-discriminatory safety policies. Further information about COVID-19 return-to-work compliance can be found on the following pages: CDC COVID ResourcesOSHA Return-to-Work Guidance, and OSHA COVID Resources.

4. Mental Health Burden

Along with the risk of illness, COVID-19 has presented additional concerns such as social isolation, financial strain, and increased childcare responsibilities. This has led to a significant mental health burden in the workforce. In fact, as a result of the pandemic, approximately 22-35% of U.S. employees are experiencing symptoms of depression.

Mental health awareness and support is an important component of a healthy return to work. Employees should be informed of relevant organizational mental health policies and resources and provided with an avenue to ask questions or report concerns, anonymously if desired.

Mobile reporting tools such as the LiveSafe platform can facilitate two-way communications about mental health within an organization. For example, consider this use case from a Vector Solutions client whose employee used the LiveSafe platform to report concerns of a coworker’s mental health crisis.

By providing mental health resources and facilitating intuitive reporting, organizations are better equipped to prevent and respond to mental health concerns in the workplace.

5. Flexibility & Adaptability

As we face ever-changing health guidance, testing and vaccination ability, and local regulations, organizations must remain flexible. This means that return-to-work plans should be equipped to accommodate updated guidance and organizational leadership should be prepared to rapidly communicate changes with employees.

This flexibility can also apply to standard company policies. For example, employers should develop COVID-specific policies for paid sick leave and remote work and should consider adapting the work week to accommodate parents who are working with children at home.

Policies should also be developed to address the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace. This includes sanitization procedures and protocols for a temporary transition back to hybrid or remote operations.

By considering and addressing these five key concerns, organizations should be prepared for a healthy and successful return to work. To further plan for safe reopening, download our free COVID Return-to-Work Checklist, based on OSHA’s recent return-to-work guidance.

ALEXANDRA BRUNJES

Alexandra Brunjes has a B.S. in Neurobiology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with minors in Creative Writing and French. She is a published journalist and experienced health and science writer. Her expertise includes risk intelligence, healthcare and neuroscience, and technology.

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