Unfortunately, many professionals must work during these difficult times. Medical workers, emergency personnel, warehouse and supply chain workers, power plant employees, and many others are continuing to deliver for all of us. I have been getting a lot of questions from safety managers on what we should be doing differently in this new safety and health environment for our employees who must work during COVID-19 times.
In my view, it is important to focus on both psychological and physical safety during the crisis. There is no doubt that it is not business as usual in any of our work environments. Many of us are spending up to 15 minutes just calming people down before our coaching sessions and conversations. The following are a few things that you can do to ensure we are getting our employees in the right mindset before starting work to ensure their well-being.
First, allow time for people to talk. People are experiencing strong emotions, and connecting with others is an important way to regulate these built-up emotions. For your pre-start meetings in the field or before your team calls, allow for 10 to 15 minutes of conversation, sharing, and discussion; this will help regulate the team and allow people to relate to each other.
If any employee is feeling down, extremely distracted, or not in the right mindset, consider a low hazard activity and pair the individual up with a co-worker. You do not want employees in these states to be working at heights or conducting life-critical activities. Also, remember to check-in on these distracted employees more frequently throughout the day.
Second, take the time to do a physical health check. Have the teams ask each other for any symptoms they may be feeling. Provide your team with some cue cards or questions that can act as an aid to help guide the conversation. If an employee is showing symptoms at a work location, you want to get them medical help or look to provide a virtual resource for medical advice. If employees are feeling ill, you want to encourage them to report it and stay home.
Third, reflect on something positive. Both at the beginning of the day and the end, have everyone write down or discuss something positive that they have seen, experienced, or heard during these times (e.g., something they are proud of). By reflecting on something positive, they can reframe a threatening situation and provide a positive filter for the day’s experiences. The more we can practice this daily, the more it becomes a habit and increases our ability to shift perspective to cope more effectively.
If you have no choice but to work during these times, you want to make sure you have the right controls in place to prevent exposure to infection. Here is some guidance from OSHA.
- Review your bloodborne pathogen and pandemic plans. Ensure that the content is up to date and reflects actual controls and processes you need to implement on the project. OSHA recommends considering methods for identifying and isolating sick employees.
- Look at educating and communicating with employees. Inform employees about how to self-identify and use proper hygiene techniques. Additional signage and resources should be provided throughout your project to communicate these requirements.
- Use the hierarchy of controls when approaching work activities as summarized below:
Engineering Controls: Engineering controls involve isolating employees from work-related hazards such as installing high-efficiency air filters, physically promoting separation in lunchrooms or shared facilities, and adding sanitizing stations and glove stations.
Administrative Controls: Typically, administrative controls involve changes in work policy or procedures to reduce or minimize exposure to a hazard:
- Encourage sick workers to stay at home.
- Minimize contact among workers, clients, and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications and implementing telework if feasible.
- Establish alternating days or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a facility at a given time, allowing them to maintain distance from one another while maintaining a full onsite work week
- Develop emergency communications plans, including a forum for answering workers’ concerns and internet-based communications (if feasible).
- Provide workers with up-to-date education and training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviors (e.g., cough etiquette and care of PPE).
- Train workers who need to use protective clothing and equipment on how to put it on, use/wear it, and take it off correctly, including how it works in the context of their current and potential duties. Training material should be easy to understand and available in the appropriate language and literacy level for all workers.
Safe Work Practice. These include administrative controls and procedures for safe and proper work to reduce the duration, frequency, or intensity of exposure to a hazard:
- Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene. For example, provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol, disinfectants, and disposable towels for workers to clean their work surfaces.
- Require regular hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand rubs. Workers should always wash hands when they are visibly soiled and after removing any PPE.
- Post hand washing signs in restrooms.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): While engineering and administrative controls are considered more effective in minimizing exposure, PPE may also be needed to prevent specific exposures. To be effective, PPE needs to be:
- Selected based upon the specific hazards to the worker.
- Properly fit and periodically refit, as applicable (e.g., respirators).
- Worn properly and in compliance with usage guidelines.
- Regularly inspected, maintained, and replaced as necessary.
- Properly removed, cleaned, and stored or disposed of, as applicable, to avoid contamination of self, others, or the environment.
For more guidance from OSHA on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 click here