Getting Your Workplace Ready for Coronavirus (COVID-19)
In January 2020 the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus disease to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. With its recent spread into the United States, domestic companies must prepare their workplaces for a potential outbreak and to help stop the spread.
Below are some facts about the virus, including a printable poster to post in your offices.
How Coronavirus Spreads
Coughing and exhaling. When someone who has Coronavirus coughs or exhales they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects — such as desks, tables, or telephones. People could catch the virus by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching their eyes nose or mouth. If standing within one meter of an infected person, they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by them. In other words, Corona virus spreads like the flu.
It’s important to note that most persons infected experience mild symptoms and recover. People over the ages of 40 seem to be more vulnerable to serious illness than those under 40. People with weakened immune systems and those with existing conditions like diabetes, heart and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness.
Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and headache.
The following graphic illustrates the best means of personal prevention. Click here to download this as a printable version to post in your office.
If you are infected: stay at home; avoid contact with others; cover your nose and mouth with tissue or elbow when sneezing; put tissues in the trash bin and wash hands; keep objects and surfaces clean.
- Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic. Surfaces (i.e. desks and tables) and objects (i.e. telephones and keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly.
- Promote regular and thorough hand washing by employees, contractors and customers.
- Put sanitizing hand-rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplaces. Make sure these are regularly filled.
- Display posters promoting hand washing.
- Combine this with other communication measures such as offering guidances from OSHA officers, briefings at meetings and information on the intranet to promote hand washing.
- Make sure that staff, contractors and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water.
- Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace.
- Display posters promoting respiratory hygiene.
- Ensure that face masks and/or paper tissues are available at your workplaces, for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing of them.
- Advise employees and contractors to consult national travel advice before going on business trips.
- Brief your employees, contractors and customers that if Coronavirus starts spring in your community, anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever needs to stay at home.
- Make sure your organization and its employees have the latest information on areas where Coronavirus is spreading. Click here to view the CDC map of locations confirmed with Coronavirus cases.
- Avoid sending employees who may be at high risk of illness. (i.e. older employees and those with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases) to areas where the virus is spreading.
- Consider issuing employees who are about to travel with small bottles (under 3oz) of alcohol-based hand rub. This can facilitate regular hand washing.
- Encourage employees to wash their hands regularly and stay at least one meter away from people who are coughing or sneezing.
- Ensure employees know what to do and who to contact if they feel ill while traveling.
- Ensure that your employees comply with instructions from local authorities where they are traveling.
Return from traveling:
- Employees who have returned from an area where Coronavirus is spreading should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and take their temperature twice a day.
- If they develop even a mild cough or low-grade fever, they should stay at home and self-quarantine. This means avoiding close contact (1 meter or nearer) with other people, including family member. They should also call their healthcare provide or the local public health department, giving them details of their recent travel symptoms.
- Develop a plan of what to do if someone becomes ill with suspected Coronavirus at one of your workplaces.
- The plan should cover putting the ill person in a room or area where they are isolated from others in the workplace, limiting the number of people who have contact with the sick person and contacting the local health authorities.
- Consider how to identify persons who may be at risk, and support them, without inviting stigma and discrimination into your workplace. This could include persons who have recently traveled to an area reporting cases, or other personnel who have conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness.
- Tell your local public health authority you are developing the plan and seek their input.
- Develop a contingency and business continuity plan for an outbreak in the communities where your business operates.
- The plan will help prepare your organization for the possibility of an outbreak of the virus its workplaces or community. It may also be valid for other health emergencies.
- The plan should address how to keep your business running evening if a significant number of employees, contractors and suppliers cannot come to your place of business—either due to local restrictions on travel or because they are ill.
- Communicate to your employees and contractors about the plan and make sure they are aware of what they need to do—or not do—under the plan. Emphasize key points such as the importance of staying away from work even if they have only mild symptoms or have had to take simple medications which may mask the symptoms.
- Be sure your plan addresses the mental health and social consequences of a case of Coronavirus in the workplace or in the community and offer information and support.
- For small and medium-sized business without in-house staff health and welfare support, develop partnerships and plans with your local health and social service providers in advance of any emergency.
- Your local or national public health authority may be able to offer support and guidance in developing your plan.