Note: This post was updated on July 2, 2020.
Currently, information on the spread and handling of COVID-19 cases, social distancing, quarantine measures and the like are abundant. It is extremely important to understand COVID-19 and know where to find the most reliable information to keep you, your employees, and your business safe, productive, and informed on the most recent information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is widely considered the foremost authority in the US and the World Health Organization (WHO) is the international leader for all diseases and outbreaks. From a workplace safety perspective, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) always has the employee in mind. The CDC, WHO, and OSHA are continually updating their COVID-19-specific pages to reflect real time data and provide the most recent recommendations and guidance. We do not recommend – as well-intentioned as they may be– your Uncle Rusty on Facebook or your Great Aunt Melba on Instagram being your sole source of information.
One of the most important things you can do to prepare your business or facility for the COVID-19 pandemic is to educate your employees about the symptoms, how it is spread, and how to prevent or limit the spread of the disease. Knowing the characteristics of the disease and acknowledging that, if given the opportunity, it could shut down your facility or office, helps gain employee participation in limiting its reach.
To protect, educate, and prepare its employees, Braun Intertec formed a COVID-19 Task Force Committee to digest the information from the resources above and create company policies and protocols. A well-developed plan is essential in limiting exposure and spread through your organization. The Committee quickly responded and developed strategies, procedures, and informationals to distribute to our employees and is continuing to convene as the situation has evolved. Persistence, diligence, and a side of flexibility are all going to be required to calm the storm.
We are all going to know somebody that is infected with COVID-19. Braun as a company is preparing under the assumption of “when”, not “if”. It is not a matter of “if” we will be impacted, it is the question of “when” we will be impacted, and “when” that happens, we want to be prepared.
Of the various resources that the COVID-19 Task Force Committee is using, one of the most useful is OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplace for COVID-19 document that outlines the potential affects to workplaces, how to reduce exposure, outlines the various exposure classifications, and how to handle international travel. We highly encourage you to review this document if you have not already. Business continuity is essential and using OSHA and CDC resources to develop a plan will help keep and encourage employee health and safety.
If you can procure the cleaning supplies, disinfecting your facility or office on a routine basis is relatively easy to do if your employees pitch in and do their part. Employees should wash their hands, avoid touching their mouths, noses and eyes, cough and sneeze into disposable towels, and disinfect their work area. As a business or employer, it is your responsibility to provide the appropriate cleaning materials and disinfect communal areas such as break rooms, conference rooms, light switches, doorknobs/handles, etc., as well encourage safe and healthy behaviors. Providing sanitizer for hands, alcohol patches for computers and mice, and other relevant items for employee use will help encourage active cleaning. Each business is unique and requires special considerations to keep your employees healthy, minimize disruption of operations, and control the spread of COVID-19. Some questions you can ask yourself and your colleagues: Do you use community or pool vehicles? Are you cleaning those vehicles after each use? Do you have a computer station multiple people use? Is there a disinfection plan for it?
Due to the current crisis, companies are encouraging alternate work schedules, the use of remote desktops to work from home, social distancing, limits to travel, etc. in an effort to “flatten the curve”. We encourage your company to develop Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plans to help prepare for an infection and set protocols on how to identify and isolate a sick employee effectively. A plan can also lay out specific decontamination procedures to be followed for “normal” operations and for when an employee becomes impacted.
Engineering and administrative controls are more effective than personal protective equipment, PPE [who wants to type in nitrile gloves and a respirator?]. These controls can include: installing high efficiency air filters, increasing air exchanges, installing physical barriers, encouraging sick workers to stay/work from home, minimizing group meetings or social events, allowing alternative work schedules, implementing COVID-19 job hazard analysis (JHA) and Health and Safety Plan (HASP) considerations, discontinuing non-essential travel, or establishing contractor and visitor protocols. However, it is also important to remember that it is the responsibility of the employer to provide appropriate PPE to its employees while they are performing responsibilities that may expose them to COVID-19. A well thought out plan serves as a roadmap to employee health and safety.
Best safety practices such as disinfecting your workplace should be completed routinely (as frequently as daily) to control the spread of any disease. This practice is more important now than ever. The American Chemistry Council has made a guide, How to Disinfect Frequently Touched Surfaces, available for free download. Hard surfaces can be disinfected with warm water with soap or detergent prior to disinfection with wipes, sprays, and bleach or alcohol solutions. Soft surfaces such as carpets, chairs, curtains/drapes, and office furniture can be scraped of visible contamination and disinfected with a soap and water solution and a disinfectant spray. If you want to know which disinfectants are the most effective for use against the novel coronavirus, the following resource might be helpful: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2. Share your plan with the custodial staff and foster good communication up and down the chain-of-command.
Disinfecting an area where a known or suspected COVID-19 case may be best left to the professionals. OSHA indicates that under most circumstances (unless the infected employee has left behind blood or other bodily fluids), no special considerations need to be made when disinfecting the area. However, determining if infected bodily fluids are still present is difficult and a professional disinfection company may be able to decontaminate the area more effectively than performing disinfection in-house. Healthcare and deathcare (yikes, what a term…) facilities are not considered average workplaces with average potential for exposure and should be treated differently. Because novel coronavirus can be spread via respirable droplets that could be suspended in the air, it is best to isolate the areas with potential infection for at least 24 hours prior to entering for disinfection to allow suspended droplets to drop and dry on surfaces. An important consideration – and potentially another reason to hire a professional disinfectant team — is that in order to handle blood or body fluids, an employee must have taken the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen training (29 CFR 1910.1030) and potentially the PPE (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I) and Hazard Communication (29 CFR 1910.1200) standards. An additional benefit to contracting a disinfection specialist company is that they can handle and dispose of the decontamination waste in accordance with Regulated Medical Waste (RMW) and Department of Transportation (DOT) rules.
There is not a single prescribed plan that will apply to all businesses in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic so we recommend input from various levels within your business to determine what works best for your facility. However, there are valuable resources that can help your business prepare. We have experienced Certified Industrial Hygienists, consultants and staff with Masters of Public Health degrees that can help you with decontamination plans, Health and Safety Plans, Job Hazard Assessments, and your businesses response and communication with employees.
It will take persistence, diligence, and flexibility but we will get through this together (well… as together as we can be while maintaining a healthy 6-foot distance from each other). Stay safe and wash your hands.
Update from July 2, 2020
Since we posted our first COVID-19 guidance for the workplace in March, much of the country has been in and out of stay-at-home orders, non-essential businesses have been through a revolving door of opening and closing, and the use of face coverings has become a political divider. We still do not know all the answers, we do not exactly know what the numbers mean, we do not exactly know how long the virus will survive on a surface, and we still don’t know when this pandemic is going to be under control.
But we do know, and Heraclitus of Ephesus said it best, “The only constant in life is change”. In these unusual times, we know that it requires persistence, diligence, and patience to stop the spread of COVID-19. The number of positive tests is rapidly growing across the nation and it is becoming evident that the worst COVID-19 is not projected to end soon. If you have not already established a written Re-opening Plan and/or Disinfection and Cleaning Plan for your facility, now is a very good time to consider doing so. Aside from the CDC and WHO, private professional groups such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), and many others have published guidance and recommendations. The good news is that most of the recommendations have remained relatively consistent.
What we do know is that cooperation from everyone is necessary for us to come out of the pandemic on the other side. The basics are still the same:
- Practice social distancing (maintain 6 feet between each other).
- Wear a face covering.
- Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water.
- Disinfect common touch points frequently and disinfect work spaces (offices/cubicles) daily using EPA N-listed disinfectants and abide by the dwell time for the specific products.
- Encourage your employees to work from home, if possible; or minimize the number of employees in the office and maximize the space between them.
- When possible, introduce as much outdoor (clean) air and properly ventilate your work spaces.
While we are in this semi-reopened state of the economy, this is an excellent time to implement a written plan. We can help you wade through and consolidate the recommendations for safe re-opening or continued operations at your facility to help minimize the potential for spread. If you have concerns about certain areas or have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 at your facility, we can also perform sampling activities to help you determine if your disinfection activities have adequately disinfected that area.
Our consultants can perform an evaluation based on the presence of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), a secondary indicator of the presence of microorganisms including bacteria AND viruses or COVID-19 specific swab testing. While the ATP testing is cheaper and quicker, the COVID-19-specific testing is a now available and a recommended option for particularly sensitive operations or large outbreaks.
Please visit this article, for more information on COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection plans.
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