US issues workplace health and safety plan as offices reopen

Updated 30 May 2020

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A man wearing a facemask walks past a sign board displaying preventive meausres against the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, outside a mall in Islamabad on March 16, 2020. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP) — AFP or licensors
A man wearing a facemask walks past a sign board displaying preventive meausres against the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, outside a mall in Islamabad on March 16, 2020. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP) — AFP or licensors

WASHINGTON: Do temperature and symptom checks of returning employees. Place plastic shields around desk or keep them six feet apart. Ban seating in common areas. Wear face coverings at all times.

These are some of the key points of a “workplace health and safety plan” that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued on Friday for reopening offices after the coronavirus lockdown.

The official US health agency also urges employers to take the following precautions before resuming business operations: Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly. “Review heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Increase circulation of outdoor air by opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods.

“Evaluate the building and its mechanical and life safety systems. Check for hazards associated with prolonged facility shutdown. Drain stagnant water systems.

And, above all, “identify where and how workers might be exposed to Covid-19 at work.” To do so, CDC suggests conducting a thorough external and internal assessment of the building to identify potential workplace hazards that could increase risks for Covid-19 transmission.

The guidelines also suggest identifying work and common areas where employees could have close contact (within 6 feet) with others — for example meeting rooms, break rooms, the cafeteria, locker rooms, check-in areas, waiting areas, and routes of entry and exit.

The office administration also advises including all employees in the workplace in communication plans — for example management, staff, utility employees, relief employees, janitorial staff, maintenance staff, and supervisory staff.

If contractors are employed in the workplace, the safety plan should be shared with the contracting company to prevent transmission of Covid-19.

For minimising physical contacts among workers, the guidelines suggest modifying or adjusting seats, furni­ture, and workstations to maintain social distancing of 6 feet between employees.

It also advises installing transparent shields or other physical barriers where possible to separate employees and visitors where social distancing is not an option.

Another suggestion is to re-arrange reception or other communal seating area chairs by turning, draping (covering chair with tape or fabric so seats cannot be used), spacing, or removing chairs to maintain social distancing.

Social-distancing should be maintained in the entire facility, including work areas, meeting rooms, break rooms, parking lots, entrance and exit areas, and locker rooms.

Employers are also urged to use signs, tape marks, decals, or colored tape on the floor, placed 6 feet apart, to indicate where to stand when physical barriers are not possible.

The guidelines include replacing high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as pre-packaged, single-serving items.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2020