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Eight Effective Elements of COVID-19 Programs

OSHA recently released additional guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Kyle Holt is the president of S/P2, an online safety and pollution prevention training system for the automotive, heavy-duty/diesel, welding, construction, cosmetology and culinary industries.

As a responsible business owner, you’re tasked with ensuring a safe and healthy workplace. About a year ago, that directive became even more challenging as COVID-19 changed the landscape of health and safety.

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By now, you most likely have plans in place regarding health and safety, but a review of those plans and procedures is always a good idea. OSHA recently released additional guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. As part of this guidance, OSHA highlighted areas where businesses were succeeding in their efforts.

Secrets to Success

Here are eight important elements of a successful program to consider:

  1. Assigning a workplace coordinator. Appoint a person to be responsible for COVID-19 issues specific to your shop. In larger facilities, you may need more than one coordinator or a support team. Make sure your employees know the coordinator’s name and have ways to communicate with them.
  2. Identifying where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work. As part of this assessment, identify potential workplace hazards related to the virus. Don’t forget to include employees in this assessment, as they will be able to share information specific to their job duties and work environment.
  3. Identifying measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. This combination of measures is similar to how your shop handles other hazards in the workplace, including eliminating the hazard, engineering controls, administrative policies, PPE and other measures. Specific to COVID-19, these measures include physical distancing, masks, good hygiene, and routine cleaning and disinfection.
  4. Strategizing protections for high-risk workers. Workers who are at higher risk for the disease include older adults and people with underlying medical conditions. When possible, consider additional protections and reasonable modifications for workers who are in these higher-risk categories. Better workplace ventilation is one option that could be considered for employees who have heart or lung vulnerabilities.
  5. Establishing a communication system to keep all workers informed. This includes not only telling employees, but also making sure that all workers understand these communications and that they’re in a language they can understand. Communication is a two-way street, so make sure your employees feel free to report potential exposures or hazards in the workplace. One OSHA recommendation is to create and test two-way communication systems that workers can use to self-report if they’re sick or have been exposed, and that employers can use to notify workers of exposures and closures.
  6. Educate and train workers on your shop’s COVID-19 policies and procedures. As always, any communication of workplace policies should be in plain language that workers can understand. Multiple methods of communication are the most effective. Examples include a combination of workplace posters and signage, email or paper communication and verbal communication. Talk about it in your weekly safety meetings and be available to answer questions. Some key things to communicate are basic facts about the virus, including how it is spread and the importance of physical distancing, face coverings and frequent handwashing, as well as your shop’s policies and procedures related to protecting workers. Make sure you document your communications. For example, if you communicate your COVID-19 policies in your weekly safety meeting, have everyone sign a log to confirm they have heard and understand what they learned in the meeting. If there are misunderstandings later, you can refer to this documentation.
  7. Telling infected or potentially infected workers to stay home and isolate or quarantine to prevent or reduce the risk of bringing a virus to your shop. You do not want employees coming to work sick and potentially spreading illness to staff and customers.
  8. Minimizing the negative impact of quarantine or isolation on workers. This can be challenging in an automotive shop, where telework is not generally feasible except for some administrative employees. But one OSHA suggestion would be to have an isolated employee work in an area away from others. Another suggestion is to allow workers to use paid sick leave. If you don’t currently have a paid sick leave policy, it may be something to consider, as it will reduce risk to everyone in the workplace.

Summary

As with most workplace health and safety programs, it’s not one big directive but rather the combination of several elements that make for the most successful initiatives. In our next column, we’ll give you eight more ways to make sure you’re doing everything you can to maintain that healthful workplace.

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