6 Steps: Adhere to Updated CDC Guidelines for Opening Office Buildings
As the number of new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases begins to slow and businesses start to reopen, it’s crucial to maintain proper COVID-19 safety precautions to prevent further spread. Organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been pivotal in publishing up-to-date materials to help businesses stay safe. Recently, they published some updates about how to properly reopen larger office buildings. This guidance includes maintaining a healthy work environment, educating employees on how to protect themselves, changing how people work, and identifying where employees could be exposed to the virus.
Step 1: Ensure Building is Safe to Occupy
- Ensure HVAC systems are working properly. If it has been shut down for a while, go through startup guidance.
- Open windows, doors and use fans to increase the circulation of outdoor air as much as possible. Do not open windows if it poses a risk to occupants.
- Check for mold growth, rodents, and pests.
- Flush your water system, if possible. This is because stagnant water in your plumbing system acts as a petri dish for certain bacteria, including Legionella, which causes Legionnaires’ disease. Read more on CDC guidance on preventing occupational exposure to Legionella.
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect all high-touch areas including door knobs, faucets, light switches, countertops, etc.
Step 2: Identify How Employees Could Be Exposed
Walk through your building and complete a hazard assessment, assigned risk level for increased COVID-19 transmission. This includes common areas (kitchens, shared lounging areas, bathrooms, supply rooms, etc.). Additionally, identify outside vendors and entities that may need to access your office space (ie. postal workers, cleaners, supply vendors, contractors) and formulate a plan that allows them to render services with little contact. This could mean allocating a sole entry and exit for all vendors and limiting interaction to a single designated employee. A sign-in sheet should also be required for the purpose of contact tracing.
Step 3: Make Modifications to Workstations
Adjust workstation layout, close communal spaces, and use methods to physically separate employees when able. The CDC also recommends using, “signs, tape marks, or other visual cues such as decals or colored tape on the floor, placed 6 feet apart, to indicate where to stand when physical barriers are not possible.” Shared supplies should be removed from workstations or tapped off (staplers, coffee pots) to prevent use.
Step 4: Educate Employees on How to Protect Themselves
If you have a business continuity plan, be sure all employees know about it and the role that they may play in it. Ensure everybody knows the policies of wearing PPE, social distancing, hygiene practices, sick leave and remote work policies, etc. The CDC has free, easy-to-print posters that you can post in and around your building as a reminder.
Step 5: Change How People Work
Let all of your employees know that if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or if they live with someone exhibiting symptoms that they should stay home and not come to work. If an employee does show up to work while exhibiting symptoms, separate them from the rest, give them a facemask (if they do not already have one on) and send them home with recommended next steps. Be sure to perform a thorough cleaning/disinfection regimen using chemicals from EPA list N if an employee with coronavirus has been in the workplace.
Some other methods you can employ to keep the work environment safe:
- Conduct daily health checks before employees enter the building
- Stagger shifts and start times to limit building occupancy
- Post signage outside the building stating face masks are required and encourage social distancing
- Provide access to soap, water and hand sanitizer with 60%+ alcohol content
- Disincentivize public transportation use or allow staff to use alternative hours so they don’t have to use public transit during rush hours
Step 6: Maintain a Healthy Work Environment
It’s not enough just to get safe, but also to stay safe. We’ve published materials on how to tell a business is taking coronavirus safety precautions, but simple steps include:
- Require employees to wear face masks
- Prohibit handshaking
- Employees frequently wash hands
- Encourage social distancing measures by using physical barriers, tape, etc.
- Restructure the layout to make physical distancing guidelines easy to follow and minimally disruptive
- Install signage throughout the building to remind everyone of new safety protocols in place
- Regularly disinfect high-touch areas
- Use antimicrobial shields
- Provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol or install sanitization stations throughout the space
- Encourage respiratory etiquette by providing ample tissues and no-touch trash receptacles
- Hand dryers in bathrooms should not be used
- Maintain low occupancy in accordance with state and CDC guidelines
Duty to Maintain a Safe Work Environment
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers are obligated by the General Duty Clause, 29 USC 654, section 5(a)(1) to protect their employees from recognized hazards.
“Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
COVID-19 is not listed as an exception to recording an occupational illness in 29 CFR 1904.5(b)(2). This means that if an employee contracts COVID-19 from another employee or through occupational exposure, the illness is recordable on the OSHA log for that business. If it results in job restriction, days away or fatality, this is also required to be recorded. In the case of a death, an OSHA inspection and investigation would follow and could result in a fine if the company didn’t take proper measures when they knew about it and should have.
Significance of Verifiable Surface Testing
Testing surfaces, especially high-touch surfaces, is critical in curbing the spread of COVID-19. With some research showing the virus can live on surfaces for up to 17 days and so many unknowns about the virus, it’s important to take every precaution.
What is Verifiable Surface Testing?
Verifiable surface testing utilizes RT-PCR technology to determine the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the viral cause of COVID-19, on fomites and hard surfaces. Surface testing adds a new level measurability and accountability, and is critical to both proactive controls and efficacy of containment measures. Paired with continuous defense disinfection and/or full service disinfection, verifiable surface tests ensure that your business, employees, and customers have the best protection possible.
Requiring Employee COVID-19 Testing
Local governments could require employee screening and COVID-19 testing, especially in certain industries (food service, manufacturing, etc.) in an effort to quell fear, prevent upticks and aid in quick contact tracing. As such, businesses should be proactive with their return to work plans. Verifiable surface testing in the workplace is another tool worth incorporating into return to work plans when evaluating disinfection procedures.
COVID-19 Disinfection & Regular Cleaning for Office Buildings
If you think an employee or client has visited your business and exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, Aftermath Service’s COVID-19 infectious disease disinfection specialist are here to help. We’re available 24/7 and can deploy rapidly after the initial call. We can fully remediate COVID-19 from high-touch surfaces in the workplace and are equipped to complete regular preventive maintenance in-line with your return to work plan.
Our business was built on keeping you safe from the unseeable — we understand that the health and safety of you, your family, employees, and clients are on the line. Don’t take any chances; call in the professionals at 877-769-6917.