As government restrictions loosen and workplaces reopen, health and safety should be a top priority for business owners. To ensure that workplaces are safe for staff and visitors, employers will have to implement new health and safety practices prior to reopening. Some businesses might experience work refusals and anxious staff when it comes to returning to work. With the right work processes in place, employers should be able to assure their workers that steps have been taken to protect their health and safety in accordance with government guidelines.
Physical Distancing and Capacity Limits
Preventing the spread of COVID-19 entails reducing individuals’ exposure to others. Businesses should develop physical distancing measures and capacity limits to reduce the number of individuals that can be present in shared spaces at one time. Meeting rooms can be closed in favor of virtual meetings and capacity limits can be placed on other shared spaces like kitchens and break rooms. Staggering break times and work hours can also help reduce congestion in these areas and the workplace in general.
For guidance on physical distancing, distancing markers should be posted in areas where line ups might form. Distancing rules should also apply to workstations, which should be separated to adhere to the 2-meter rule. One-way flow rules should also be implemented in narrow or high traffic areas to prevent overcrowding.
Businesses should also consider a phased approach back to full capacity when reopening. Recalling only essential workers first will allow businesses to respect social distancing guidelines. A phased approach will also allow employers to re-evaluate operations and make any necessary changes before welcoming more employees back to work. Workplaces should develop these plans based on provincial updates and should be prepared to regress back to more restricted phases should the government decide this is necessary.
Health and Safety Procedures
At this time, cleaning protocols and staff training should be enhanced to ensure proper hygiene in the workplace. High touch point surfaces should be sanitized frequently throughout the workday and sharing equipment should be prohibited. Additionally, extra furniture and decor should be removed to prevent the virus from potentially settling on these surfaces.
Employers should also support staff with guidance on COVID-19. For example, health screening questionnaires can help employees monitor for symptoms and updated Employee Handbooks can outline new procedures for operating during COVID-19 and what to do in case of an outbreak in the workplace. Staff should receive mandatory training on new health and safety practices prior to going back to work to ensure they understand their role in maintaining a safe workspace.
When reopening, employers can also work with building operators to help facilitate a safer environment. Employers may want to consider what common areas workers could visit near their workplace and, if the business is located in a building, what health and safety measures need to be implemented there as well. Employers can work with building operations to establish cleaning protocols, elevator protocols, contractor and visitor screenings, and discuss using enhanced HVAC systems to provide cleaner air for staff.
Supporting Employees and their Mental Health
Returning to work during COVID-19 may be stressful for some workers This is the time when education and training matter the most. To help workers adjust to changes, employers should be transparent about safety in the workplace and keep an open conversation around this subject.
Frontline workers may be more aware of hazards than management, so it is important to stay receptive to input from staff and address their concerns.
Demonstrating consideration for workers’ concerns will help them feel heard and valued, which is especially important for mental health during this time. Employers should also remind workers of support available to them, such as employee assistance programs, benefits in health plans, and government resources.
Peninsula is a trusted HR and Health & Safety advisory, serving over 80,000 small businesses worldwide. Clients are supported with ongoing updates of their workplace documentation and policies as legislation changes. Additionally, clients benefit from 24/7 employer HR advice and are protected by legal insurance. Contact us today to learn more about how we help employers succeed: 1-833-247-3652 peninsula-ca.com
Hope McManus is the Head of Health and Safety at Peninsula, heading the company’s health and safety advisory team in delivering solutions for small and medium-sized businesses.
She has 10 years of health and safety experience, having worked for one of the world’s biggest airlines as a Health and Safety professional. In addition, she has worked with other consulting firms in developing health and safety plans for historic Canadian landmarks such as the parliament buildings in Ottawa. Hope’s focuses are in the area of her accreditations which include Risk Management training, Audit training, Root Cause analysis as well as Accident/Injury reporting. Hope also has seasoned experience in business logistics and operations, with safety and HR management as a forefront.