Understanding Safety Means Reopening Your Business The Smart Way
States across the nation have started to relax government-ordered closures and stay-at-home directives related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Depending on the state, businesses such as surgical centers, dental offices, restaurants, movie theatres, gyms, golf courses, and salons will be allowed to reopen soon, or have already been allowed to resume operations. However, regardless of the type of business, each state that has moved toward reopening its respective economy has mandated that businesses take the necessary precautions to protect the public and to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 in the community.
Throughout the pandemic, individual states and regions have been tasked with determining their own guidelines for stay-at-home orders and business closures. Some states have even delegated certain decisions to the county or city levels, which may make it difficult for businesses with multiple locations to create a company-wide reopening plan.
Depending on the type of establishment you operate, your state may develop industry-specific policies, based on best practices and recommendations from public health officials and the federal guidelines for reopening the U.S. For instance, your state may mandate strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols, as well as require employees and customers to wear face coverings in your location and also in your industry.
By understanding your obligations under your state’s regulations, as well as the generally accepted guidelines for your industry, you will be able to craft a reopening plan that instills trust and confidence among the individuals who interact with your company.
Vivek Cherian M.D., a doctor of internal medicine says, “If it applies, workspace it should be reconfigured to allow for 6-foot distances between workers and customers. … Common areas such as break rooms may have to be reorganized to maximize social distancing.”
In addition, indoor areas occupied by people need routine cleaning that should be followed by disinfecting frequently touched items, such as tables, doorknobs, keyboards, touch screens, and the like. These items can be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day, and perhaps more for certain items used by multiple people in public (for example, shopping cart handles and payment touch pads should be cleaned between each use).
Soft and porous materials in high-traffic areas also will need frequent disinfection. Soft and porous materials that are not frequently touched need only to be laundered or cleaned, using the highest temperature setting possible, and fully dried. Of course, the cleaning and disinfection plan should be regularly updated as guidance changes.
As a business owner, your primary concern should be the health and safety of your employees and customers. All places of business, including shops, restaurants, construction sites and offices, must take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 on-premises. “Personal/physical contact should be minimized including handshaking or meetings in closed spaces. Hand sanitizers should be made readily available throughout the business. Facemasks should be worn as often as possible…,” says Cherian.
The reopening plan businesses implement should include considerations regarding how employers will maintain a healthy work environment once operations resume. For that, the CDC has offered the following guidelines:
- Consider improving the engineering controls using the building ventilation system by increasing ventilation rates and increasing the percentage of outdoor air that circulates into the system
- Support respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene for employees, customers, and worksite visitors. The CDC advises that businesses should:
- provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles
- provide soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol
- place hand sanitizers in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene
- encourage the use of non-contact methods of greeting, instead of handshaking
- continue to practice active social distancing (specifically, staying six feet away from others when you must go into a shared workspace)
- avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth
- wear cloth face coverings
- Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after persons suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 have been in the workplace
- Discourage unnecessary travel
- Reduce or eliminate in-person meetings and other gatherings
Although the CDC does not recommend that the cleaning and disinfecting plan be written, it may be a good idea to develop a written plan and distribute it to employees and cleaning staff. Additionally, signage reminding employees to minimize touching surfaces and to wash hands frequently may assist in exposure reduction. Employers should document the steps they have taken to assure their cleaning and disinfection procedures are compliant with the latest guidance. Documentation may include cleaning schedules, cleaning staff assignments, evidence of the engagement and scope of work of third-party janitorial services, purchase orders and shipping receipts for cleaning supplies and related PPE, employee communications, and anything else to show employers’ efforts to keep work areas clean and disinfected.