Negosentro.com | 10 Essential Points to Keep in Mind for Protecting Employees and Customers During the COVID-19 Pandemic | The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in interruptions to the economy, as both employees of organizations and customers or patrons have had to adjust their routines. Owners and leaders of organizations have also had to shut down or restrict operations as infection and hospitalization rates have increased. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published several guidelines for organizations and general businesses regarding employee and customer safety during the pandemic. However, different states and municipalities have also issued varying levels of restrictions depending upon localized infection rates and hospital capacities.
Depending upon local mandates, some businesses like restaurants and gyms have had to restrict the number of customers that can be indoors at the same time. Others have had to limit dining options to take-out, delivery, and outdoor dining. While all organizations and citizens should look to local and state guidelines and restrictions first, the CDC offers general guidelines for containing and limiting the spread of the virus. For instance, items like restaurant supplies should be kept clean and disinfected more frequently if employees and customers have frequent and ready access to that equipment.
Isolate Employees Who are Confirmed or Suspected of Being Sick
Employees who are feeling ill or who suspect they are sick should not continue to work. These employees need to be sent home, especially if they develop symptoms while working or show up to work with symptoms. They should also be separated from other employees and customers while they are on site.
These employees should continue to isolate or quarantine at home for the recommended length of time and take a COVID-19 test. If the test results are positive, the quarantine or isolation period may need to start over based on when the worker’s symptoms started. Employees who have also been exposed to someone who tested positive will need to quarantine and get tested if symptoms develop during the isolation period.
Close Off and Disinfect Areas Where Positive Employees Worked
If an employee is confirmed as testing positive, the areas where he or she worked will need to be closed off and disinfected. This includes all of the equipment and surfaces within that area, as the virus is known to live on surfaces and spread through respiratory droplets. The CDC recommends that employers wait 24 hours before having others clean the closed-off area, as the virus can remain in respiratory droplets during that time. The chances of others getting infected if they enter or clean the area during that period is high.
Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
A critical means of keeping both employees and customers safe is encouraging or requiring the use of PPE. This includes masks when social distancing is difficult or when stipulated by local mandates. Depending upon the type of business, mask requirements and guidelines may differ. For instance, in restaurants employees are often required to wear masks at all times but customers can remove masks when eating.
PPE should also be used when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces known to be exposed to the virus. Disinfectants that are known to kill the virus should also be used when cleaning surfaces and equipment. Examples include soap and water, as well as products like Lysol. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a list of approved cleaners and disinfectants to use.
Businesses and organizations should modify waiting rooms, dining areas, and the like to encourage social distancing. This can include marking chairs that are less than six feet apart as unavailable, installing plexiglass shields between employees attending registers and customers, and placing markers or tape on the floor indicating where to stand. Social distancing can also entail making sure employees in offices are separated at least six feet apart when sitting at their desks.
Telecommuting and Limitation of Services
Implementing social distancing protocols can also include letting employees telecommute when it is practical. Workers whose job tasks can be performed at home with a stable internet connection can be approved to work from home on an alternating basis or until further notice. Shift work can be staggered out to reduce the number of employees who are on site.
Depending upon the size of an organization’s physical location, the number of customers allowed into the space at one time may need to be limited or staggered. Arranging additional services, such as online ordering and curbside pickup can help. This will allow more customers to get what they need without having to enter the location. Reduced operating hours and the limitation of certain services or spaces may need to be implemented.
An example of limiting spaces and services can be seen with some areas’ public libraries. Some have closed off gathering areas and restricted checkout services to reserved pickup and drop-off only. Classes may be moved online and access into the building could require an appointment or reservation.
Employee Travel Restrictions
Workers who usually travel for business may need to postpone or limit this type of activity. Limitations can be put on the distance employees travel, as well as overnight trips. It is known that traveling to different areas and staying in lodging away from home can increase the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
Employees who take public transportation or use rental cars while traveling should be informed to disinfect surfaces, keep their hands washed or sanitized and away from their face, and wear masks when appropriate. If the organization can provide fleet vehicles, this is preferred. However, the employer needs to ensure the vehicles are disinfected and cleaned.
Routine Cleaning of Surfaces
Surfaces and equipment should be routinely disinfected and cleaned. Employees who interact with surfaces and others should also be provided with hand sanitizer at their stations. Customers who must touch the organization’s equipment such as signature pads and registers should also have ready access to sanitizer. For example, grocery stores can place hand sanitizer and wipes at entrances to wipe down the handles of shopping carts.
Employees who handle customers’ personal equipment like cell phones should be trained to disinfect that equipment when necessary. Workers may also need to be educated about and follow more frequent hand washing and sanitization protocols, especially if they are in frequent contact with surfaces. Examples include restaurant workers, public transportation workers, and retail store employees. CDC protocols for disinfecting public spaces like restrooms need to be followed as well.
Poor ventilation is known to increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Opening up windows when possible can increase the amount of fresh airflow and reduce the risk. Maintaining the facility’s HVAC system is important as it ensures that airflow is not being blocked by dirty filters or malfunctioning equipment. Using HEPA filters in high-risk locations like health care facilities and smaller spaces can help reduce the risk of transmission. Health care facilities may be subject to more stringent stipulations regarding ventilation systems than buildings that host other types of organizations.
Follow Testing Recommendations
Employees who need to get tested for suspected COVID-19 infections need to get the viral test. Antibody or blood tests are not considered sufficient for returning to work. A negative viral test or succession of negative viral tests are appropriate per CDC guidelines. The reason antibody tests are insufficient is that these tests provide evidence of a prior infection with the coronavirus. These tests do not reveal whether the individual has an active or current infection.
Reduce Customer Wait Times and Implement Separation Procedures
Businesses that involve customer queues or waiting times may need to implement different guidelines to limit wait times. Some organizations are instructing customers to wait outside in their cars to limit the number of people indoors. Examples include medical appointments and picking up food from restaurants. Retail outlets may ask customers to wait in their cars before coming into stores or ask them to schedule appointments before entering. Employees may need to call customers waiting in the parking lot before they enter the place of business.
Veterinarians are another example of organizations that have implemented these types of procedures. Pet owners are not permitted to enter the building and must wait in the car while their pet is being seen or treated. A staff member comes to retrieve the pet from the car and takes payment over the phone. The vet also communicates with the owner during the appointment to advise the owner of the results of the visit.
It’s important to keep in mind that keeping customers and employees safe during the pandemic may look slightly different for each business. The protocols and guidelines each organization implements can vary according to the nature of the services and products the organization provides. Municipal and state restrictions will often drive what the organization needs to put in place and when. These restrictions can often change depending on the local infection and hospitalization rates.
Since certain circumstances could also lead to temporary shutdowns, organizations need to be prepared to move employees off-site if necessary. Essential industries like telecommunications and information technology will need to prepare to implement 100 percent telecommuting for office workers in these scenarios. Having a plan and resources in place, as well as the ability to remain flexible will ensure safety standards are met.