It may feel as if the country is taking a collective breath after holding it since March. But many are worried if we breathe too soon or too deeply, we’ll inhale more than we bargained for, leading to a worse global catastrophe in the form of a second wave of coronavirus infections. If you ask 100 people about the proper timing for reopening businesses and the economy, you’ll get 100 different answers — 200 if you come back next week and ask them again. But one thing experts agree on are the safety measures to use once you decide to reopen your business. So what are the COVID-19 safety measures you need to consider in order to return to work?
5 Categories of COVID-19 Safety Measures
Different states and jurisdictions have different required measures, and which resources are appropriate for you varies based on the kind of business you run. Common examples of the five categories of COVID-19 safety measures you should make a plan for are:
- Social Distancing: Making it easy (and even possible in some cases) for staff and customers to keep a safe distance from one another
- Hygiene Protocols: Systems, policies, and tools to prevent surface contact spread of the COVID-19 virus
- Staffing and Operations: policies and systems to keep your employees informed and safe
- Cleaning and Disinfection: For both employees and customers who show symptoms, as well as generally throughout your place of business
- Information Flow: Maintaining an up-to-date and accurate understanding of news and developments about the pandemic
Let’s look at all five categories in more detail— what they mean, why they’re important, and some of the best ways to service them effectively.
1. Social Distancing
Social distancing is effective because of the range of a human sneeze or cough. Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet while in public is one of the strongest measures to prevent becoming infected or spreading infection.
To encourage social distancing in your business, you can:
- Post signage in public spaces encouraging and guiding proper distancing.
- Calculate the maximum number of people you can have inside while maintaining proper distance and enforce this maximum.
- Reassess systems and protocols so your staff can maintain social distance.
- Identify “choke points” where people are at risk of passing within 6 feet of each other and develop systems to prevent that from happening.
- Place safety shields at counters where customers have to stand closer than 6 feet from a cashier or other employee.
2. Hygiene Protocols
After maintaining social distance, the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and others is to make sure we observe recommended hygiene standards while at work. A few policies you can put into place to help with this:
- Encourage and enforce frequent hand-washing protocols for your employees. Use the models for food service or medical care, even if you aren’t in those fields.
- Maintain sufficient supplies for frequent hand-washing.
- Require employees to wear face masks and consider extending that policy to customers who enter your location, depending on local regulations.
- Wherever possible, set up zero-contact protocols for delivery of what you sell.
3. Staffing & Operations
A micropreneur with a private office or a security guard who works alone in an empty building don’t need to worry about their co-workers and spreading COVID-19. For others, it’s co-workers who will be the most at risk should you become infected.
Beyond social distancing while on staff, you can take the following measures to help keep people safe:
- Provide employees with sufficient training about your social distancing and hygiene measures, and follow up to make sure they’re being enforced.
- Look at your current procedures and protocols for ways to reduce employee contact. For example, have people on the same shift arrive at different times, rather than all at once, and move workstations farther apart.
- Adopt an “err-on-the-side-of-caution” policy for calling in sick so employees stay home if there is any chance they have become infected.
- Adjust timelines of major projects to get by with less staff, operating with fewer people until the danger has passed.
4. Cleaning & Disinfecting
Although the most common form of transmission is through body fluids, COVID-19 can survive on skin and flat surfaces for long enough to put people at risk. Since most businesses operate in part by having people touch things all the time, this is a potential point of vulnerability. To combat this, you can:
- Provide hand-washing or hand sanitizer stations throughout your place of business, including in public areas.
- Note areas that get touched frequently, like doorknobs, restrooms, safety screens, and tools. Establish procedures to wipe them down with sanitizer on a regular basis.
- Deeply disinfect your entire facility if an employee or regular customer is diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Make disinfection and cleaning checklists for your employees to follow, and confirm they are followed consistently.
5. Information Flow
Our global network is one reason we’ve been able to take successful steps to contain the virus so far. As things return to normal, it’s important to remain informed from sources you can trust.
When searching for information about the COVID-19 situation, consider the following:
- Use fact-checkers like Media Bias Fact Check to confirm the sources of your information are accurate and delivered with as little agenda as possible.
- Bookmark the websites of your local and regional health authorities, and check them regularly.
- Set aside time each week to communicate what you’ve learned with your staff so everybody is on the same page.
- Stay current on changes in recommendations about COVID-19 safety measures. As we’ve already seen, best practices change as scientists learn more about the virus.
Nothing can guarantee your business won’t be impacted directly by COVID-19, but it’s important to follow the steps above as we move forward. These are challenging times, but approaching your business with a thoughtful and careful process will help your customers and employees feel more comfortable coming back to your business.
Special thanks to Justin Latenhaer with MoneyCrashers for contributing to this week’s HR Question of the Week. Justin Latenhaer is a Midwest-based consultant who provides strategies to businesses on how to market and run their companies. During COVID-19, he’s been offering steps to help businesses restart.
During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Employer Resources for webinars, resource guides, our Return to Work Guide, and more to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing.