As the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, we as leaders play a critical role in protecting workers and communicating accurately and effectively about the risks. These are recommendations based off current information, and I encourage you all to stay informed and to continue to have open discussions with your crew.
Minimize Chance for Exposure and Adhere to Standard Precautions
Ensure jobsite policies and practices are in place to minimize exposures to respiratory pathogens including COVID-19. Measures should be implemented before workers arrival, upon arrival, and throughout the duration of their shift. Standard Precautions assume that every person is potentially infected or colonized with a pathogen that could be transmitted.
- Plan for social distancing and determine ways to increase space between people to at least three feet – six feet is preferable. You can achieve this in several ways, such as offering the option to telework; reducing or staggering work schedules; spacing workers farther apart; postponing nonessential meetings; and using email, conference calls or online meetings. This will take pre-task planning for everything you do. How can you accomplish your goal keeping recommended distances?
- Be diligent and consistent with disinfecting all surfaces including doorknobs, keyboards, light switches, phones, copiers, scanners, printers, plotters, water coolers, refrigerator handles, coffee makers, microwaves and all ‘table-top’ surfaces.
- Communicate and enforce policies that keep any person with flu-like or respiratory symptoms at home - call supervisor then doctor for instructions.
- Designate a space for people who may become sick and cannot leave the workplace immediately.
- Provide Hand Wash/Sanitize stations at entry points to job sites, inside break areas, outside portable toilets, and at other high traffic areas throughout job site.
- No shaking hands/pats on the back etc. greetings should be by voice only and other non-contact forms of communicating such as a wave, nod, or bow.
- Disinfecting and restocking of portable toilets occur daily
- No fingerprint time clocks / I-pads (only one person uses and clocks in all others).
- Demand respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
- All need to be diligent with proper hand hygiene by using ABHR (Alcohol Based Hand Rub) with 60-95% alcohol or washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If hands are visibly soiled, use soap and water before ABHR. Encourage frequent hand washing – especially after being in a public place, blowing nose, coughing, sneezing, etc.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Sneeze or cough into you elbow or into a tissue then dispose of the tissue immediately and wash hands
- Discourage the sharing of utensils, desks, phones, and work tools
Educate Employees on Effective Prevention Measures
Ensure your workers are educated, trained, and practice the appropriate precautions both at home and on the job site. The CDC and World Health Organization has up to date information on their website about the Coronavirus, follow their recommendations.
- Daily toolbox talks to re-enforce Best Practices. Have enough pens to sign-in that each worker using a clean pen, then drops the pen into a container so the pens can be wiped down with sanitizer and made ready for next day’s use.
- N95 masks should be reserved for existing work settings with particulate exposure from work functions, emergency responders or healthcare facilities – these are in short supply and should not be worn by all.
- Post educational posters for employees.
- Have nonperishable food and toiletries available at home if they need to stay home for two weeks.
- Have a sufficient supply of prescription medicine for all family members and pets.
- Have ibuprofen or acetaminophen on hand for fever control.
- Consider alternate childcare arrangements in case a parent becomes ill.
- Check that elderly family members and friends have appropriate resources. Those who appear most severely impacted by this virus are the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or immuno-compromising conditions.
What not to do
As leaders, you can take many steps to help protect and educate your employees. But you must also take care not to inadvertently cause more concern or panic through certain actions.
For example, avoid telling employees that they will be fine and the risk to them is zero. Acknowledging fear and allowing employees to process that fear is an important step in risk communication. Keep providing facts and explaining what steps individuals can take to prepare. This is what they can control.
In addition, you should not single out or discriminate against any group or individuals due to race, country of origin or health status. The outbreak will impact a wide range of people and no one group is responsible for spreading it.
Rely only on Trusted Resources and Information
Misinformation and rumors are a concern during any pandemic because they can heighten fear and create greater uncertainty. That's why it is important to take time to identify, share and rely on trusted sources for the latest information as the situation evolves. The best sources of national information are the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
King County Public Health outlines how to handle employees who are sick, who have COVID-19, were potentially exposed to COVID-19, etc.
King County Public Health General Information Page:
CDC Mitigation guidance for three Puget Sound Counties are aggressive recommendations for work and home such as social distancing, staggered work schedules and daily employee health checks for fever and respiratory symptoms. Applies to Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties.
Current CDC Guidelines to all Employers Across the Country:
The Washington Department of Health employee screening protocol for across the state:
Washington State Department of Health Employer Guidelines (and links to resources) for employers across the state:
The EEOC allows employers to take temperatures, assess for symptoms of COVID-19 and ask about COVID-19 medical issues that they might not be able to in normal times. Results are still considered “medical records” and should have privacy protections. See EEOC website for more details:
A Washington L&I Hazard Alert with good information on best practices in the workplace can be printed and posted. COVID-19 should be a talking point at every safety meeting on-site. There are Spanish versions of some of the workplace notices and posters.
We are all in this together – please take care and be safe!