Returning to a Safe and Healthy Office Work Environment Series – Blog 3: Safe Working Procedures and PPE
By Brie DeLisi
Returning to work will require physical work environment changes, as mentioned in Blog 2 of this series, and it will also require considerations around Safe Working Procedures and PPE (personal protective equipment), as it is not likely that employees can just go to work ‘business as usual’. Prevention and physical environment changes should be the first line of defense, followed by administrative and procedural changes, then the last line of defense with PPE.
Procedural considerations are of the utmost importance – consider a customer service call center in which first shift starts at 8:00 AM, while the night shift is departing and a there is a hand off of work. Perhaps 40 employees are leaving, while another 80 are arriving – all at the same time. Entry points, stairwells and elevators are likely congested. Additionally, groups need to be aligned – where did we leave off, what needs attention, who is taking on which role today?
Instead of normal operations, we need to reduce these potential contact points.
The call center could implement a structured entry program, in which each team arrives and enters the building at a designated time, separated by 5 or 10 minutes from the next group. This will reduce a mass influx of individuals at the same time. Additionally, the night shift can leave via one stairwell or elevator and the day shift can enter via another route to avoid interacting. This can also similarly happen with lunch and other breaks. The purpose of these isolation procedures will help to reduce COVID exposure between groups; if there happens to be an exposure within a team, it is significantly more likely that it will remain within the isolated group rather than spreading to other teams.
How about the necessary start of shift and hand off meetings?
First and foremost, determine if it is possible to share the information and hold a conversation without being in-person – options could be Web Ex conference calls, Zoom video conference, and Slack chat rooms. If meetings still need to happen in-person, implement social distancing measures like removing chairs from a meeting room to have just enough for the attendees and adequately spaced, and require face masks. Before the meeting starts, it should be someone’s responsibility to ensure that everyone is appropriately situated, and attendance should be taken as well as retained for 1 month.
Additional procedural considerations should include limiting group interactions, mandating handwashing, sanitization of communal spaces and shared equipment, tracking and/or limiting employee interactions, what employees should do if they believe they’ve been exposed and how the company will respond, temperature monitoring, etc. Exploring flex work and remote options will also be explored in a subsequent blog.
When employees have the potential to be within 6 feet of one another, masks should be required. It would be advisable to at least require them when walking from their car to their workstation, and when walking through the building. Ideally, companies should also provide facemasks if needed and employees should be trained on how to properly wear a mask. Gloves are not always advisable unless they are absolutely properly used – many times people will be wearing gloves throughout their day and touching share items, then touching their cell phone or glasses, which will then be touched later with a gloveless hand. The only exception to this would be at customer service windows and ensuring the employees wear gloves and masks while working and removing prior to touching their face or body and anything personal. As with any change – it is important to educate employees on why and how to properly follow guidelines.