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COVID-19 and Preparing to Reopen for Business

Jun 03, 2020 Decorative image

As state and local governments scale back coronavirus-related stay-at-home regulations and businesses are allowed to reopen, companies need to determine whether and how they will do so. Restarting a business amid a pandemic isn’t as simple as unlocking the front door.

In addition to seeking legal, insurance and other professional expertise, the first step includes conducting a risk assessment.

Conducting a Risk Assessment

While the nature and complexity of risk assessments differ from business to business, they typically involve the following steps.

Identifying hazards. When it comes to COVID-19, businesses need to think critically about their exposures, particularly if an infected person entered their facilities. When identifying hazards, it’s a good idea to perform a walk-through of the premises and consider high-risk areas (e.g., break rooms and other areas where people may congregate). It’s also important to consider what tasks employees are performing and whether or not they are exposed to COVID-19 risks when performing their duties.

Deciding who may be harmed and how. Once you’ve identified hazards to your business, determine which populations of your workforce are exposed to COVID-19 risks. When performing this evaluation, you will need to make note of high-risk individuals (e.g., staff members who meet with customers or individuals with preexisting medical conditions).

Analyzing the risks. After you have identified the risks facing your business, you must analyze them to determine their potential consequences. Determine how likely each risk is to occur within your business and what the ramifications are. Consider potential financial losses, compliance requirements, employee safety, business disruptions, reputational harm and other consequences.

Controlling the risks. With an understanding of the likely threats to your business, next consider ways to address them. For example, can you avoid certain risks by eliminating hazards, activities and exposures from the operation altogether? Can you take preventive measures to control certain risks? For COVID-19, control measures could include additional cleaning protocols and mandated personal protective equipment (PPE) usage.

Monitoring results. Risk management is an evolving, continuous process. Once you’ve implemented a risk control program, monitor its effectiveness and reassess. Remember, COVID-19 risks facing your business can change over time.

If after completing a risk assessment and reviewing local guidance your organization determines it’s safe to reopen, it’s time to prepare the workplace.

Preparing the Workplace

Before you reopen your business, you’ll need to think about how you can do so safely. Considerations include disinfecting and modifying the workplace, establishing health screening protocols, creating safety guidelines and ensuring that employees understand the new operating procedures.

Disinfecting the workplace. Before reopening, disinfect the office or building. You may be able to hire a professional cleaning service to deep-clean and disinfect your business, but if you need to do it yourself, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Protect yourself. Wear PPE, including gloves and a mask, while you’re cleaning the workspace. Avoid touching your face or any personal electronic devices while you clean.
  • Clean first, disinfect second. Disinfectant works best on clean surfaces.
  • Use a disinfectant that appears on the Environmental Protection Agency’s List N, meaning it meets the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • Replace air filters. Increasing ventilation and changing out old air filters can help promote workplace health.
  • Clean daily. Establish a plan for daily cleaning of the space and promoting employee cleanliness.

Modifying the workplace. Workplace modifications will most often be based on social distancing protocols, which also may be required by states or local orders as a condition of being permitted to reopen. Your business’s social distancing plan will be unique to your industry and nature of work, but public health experts point to three key factors to consider when creating a social distancing plan and making necessary workplace changes:

  • Physical workspace modifications. Because COVID-19 spreads through close contact, employers may need to do the following: separate desks and workstations to ensure that there are six feet between each station; add partitions to open floor plans; close common spaces, including conference rooms, break rooms and cafeterias; modify high-touch surfaces (e.g., propping doors open) to reduce the need to touch surfaces; establish contactless drop zones for all deliveries, including mail, packages and food; and ban workplace visitors and vendors.
  • Workplace protocols. To keep employees safe, your business will need to change protocols for in-person interactions and physical contact. Some suggested changes include the following: establish and enforce a crowd control plan to minimize the number of employees in the building at once; prohibit in-person meetings whenever possible; limit the size of in-person gatherings to fewer than 10 people; encourage employees to avoid sharing workstations or equipment; stagger meal times and breaks to avoid having large groups of employees together at once; and ban all business travel.
  • Employee scheduling. To minimize the number of employees at work at any given time, consider implementing the following changes: permit only essential employees in the office; encourage all other employees to work remotely, if possible; and stagger shifts.

Establishing employee screening, exposure and confirmed illness protocols. Given the contagious nature of COVID-19, it is a good idea to implement formalized screening and exposure protocols. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission permits employers to measure employees’ body temperatures before allowing them to enter the worksite. Screening should be implemented on a nondiscriminatory basis, and all information gleaned should be treated as confidential medical information under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Avoid surprises by notifying employees that you will be screening them.

Employees who test positive for COVID-19 or believe they have been infected should follow the advice of a qualified medical professional and should not return to work until it is safe to do so. When an employee tests positive for COVID-19, deep-cleaning procedures should be triggered. Furthermore, employees who were in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 should be instructed to self-quarantine.

Creating Employee Safety Training Materials. The safe reopening of your business will depend in large part on how well your employees follow your health and safety guidance. Your employee safety training materials should include the following topics:

  • Social distancing guidelines
  • Use of PPE
  • Personal hygiene and etiquette to prevent the spread of COVID-19
  • Cleaning responsibilities
  • Industry- or business-specific training materials

For more tips on reopening for business, refer to Hylant’s Employer’s Guide: Return to Work Action Plan.

Understanding OSHA Implications

As part of reopening for business, many employers are writing policies to address the COVID-19 situation and taking extra steps to ensure employee health and safety. When making these decisions, keep in mind not only the legal and human resources impacts, but also the OSHA requirements that may come into play when designing new processes and procedures. Visit the OSHA COVID-19 web page for a list of key standards and a link to state plans.

Using Available Resources

While resuming operations following the COVID-19 pandemic may seem like a daunting task, businesses don’t have to go it alone. Organizations can seek the help of their insurance professionals to determine what actions they need to take to ensure their business reopens smoothly. To learn more, contact your local Hylant office today.

Additionally, you may find these resources helpful:

The above information does not constitute advice and does not account for state and local guidance related to COVID-19. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted adviser for insurance-related questions.

Sean Majewski, Casualty Loss Control Risk Advisor