Ask yourself this: before this year, did your Business Continuity Plan include workforce health measures related to pandemic preparedness? If you were like most operations, COVID-19 caught you off guard and you’ve spent the year trying to address its many pitfalls.
In the past, workforce protection measures had been focused on things like injuries that could be sustained while on the job. And, health measures were often limited to “stay home when you are sick.” But, this year coronavirus (should have) changed everything.
How Coronavirus is Transmitted
As you may already know, the primary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 or coronavirus is through close exposure to the respiration, talking, coughing and sneezing of an infected individual. The secondary mode of transmission is considered far less common and results when a person touches a surface that has the virus on it and then touches their face, nose or mouth.
In the workplace, there is a risk that the workforce will be exposed to the virus and acquire it while performing their jobs. Therefore, your response requires implementation of protocols and mitigation measures to protect the workforce against contracting the disease while at work. In addition to those who are easily identified as ill, some individuals remain asymptomatic (they have the virus, but do not and will not exhibit symptoms) when they are infected, so several strategies need to be considered.
Steps to Mitigate COVID-19 Transmission
Knowing the facts makes it easier to tailor workplace guidance to mitigate transmission between workers in facility operations. The following are some of the COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures that have proven effective:
- Use pre-entry health checks to determine those who have symptoms
- Use pre-entry questionnaires to determine exposure to eliminate potential carriers
- Use of PPE such as face masks, full face shields, gloves, gowns, etc. as appropriate for the operation while onsite
- Control of PPE disposal is required to prevent the spread of the disease. Disposable PPE must be discarded in designated trash containers that are effectively managed to contain the virus. Reusable PPE must be placed in designated containers for transport to where disinfection by trained personnel will occur
- Implement social distancing (i.e.6 feet or 2 meters) between employees
- Require frequent handwashing and only touching the face with clean hands
- Disinfect common touchpoints – Examples include, but are not limited to door handles, time clocks, control handles and knobs on production equipment, computer touchscreens, bathroom doors, vending machines, water coolers, PPE holders, badges, and shared equipment such as scanning guns in a warehouse or thermostats/thermometers
- Correct donning and doffing procedures. Since we cannot ascertain who is asymptomatic and may be shedding the virus, all worn PPE must be considered contaminated. Careful removal of masks, gloves, face shields and gowns is required to prevent dispersing the virus into the air.
- Require employees to notify company if testing positive for the virus. Employees must trust that reporting illness and staying home when sick will not result in disciplinary action
- Require employees to stay home when sick. It must be communicated and understood that this is for the greater good of the entire workforce
- Conduct contract tracing to identify those individuals exposed to the sick employee. Management must facilitate the processes for contact tracing
- Quarantine and disinfecting areas where a positive testing employee has worked. Management will also then initiate the cleaning of affected workstations to remove identified risks in the workplace
- Quarantine at home for those with known exposure to the virus
- Follow CDC guidelines for safe return to work after illness or positive test result
The Must-Dos: COVID-19 Mitigation Training and Management
The introduction of these and other health crisis mitigation measures comes with the responsibility to properly train the workforce on their implementation and manage each of them to realize success. Too, these recommendations may be modified to the situation, whether you’re running intermittent operations due to the virus or resulting supply chain issues.
Planning, preparing, and implementing health crisis mitigation measures in the workplace will ensure that the workforce is effectively protected against contracting the disease while at work. Being prepared will also help earn employee confidence and build customer business.
Get started with a free pandemic preparedness plan review. Schedule it now.
Peg Ray is a Technical Services Manager at AIB International, where she supports food and beverage companies on emerging food safety and integrity issues. Peg has over 40 years of experience in the food industry and was one of the first women in Food Science at Michigan State University. Peg is an in-demand expert on pandemic preparedness and good manufacturing practices (GMPs).