It appears that COVID-19, for now, is our new normal, at least until vaccines are widely available, so here is guidance on preparing jobsites for our new normal with COVID-19. With a widespread illness that has lasted such a long time, it is easy to lose some of the rigor associated with on-the-job protocols to protect your employees. This type of COVID-fatigue could land some employers in hot water from a compliance perspective from OSHA while exposing workers to unsafe conditions as a result of the potentially deadly disease.
That’s why we believe it’s a good time to revisit best practices from the “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” released by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) earlier this year.
Protecting the Health and Safety of Your Workforce
OSHA standards require employers to create a work environment free from recognized hazards that could harm their workforce. OSHA’s COVID-19-specific document was developed in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) earlier this year. It provides employers with recommendations regarding the use of personal protective equipment and safe practices based upon the level of exposure in the workplace.
OSHA’s recommendations include planning instructions affecting administrative, engineering, and operational protections to keep organizations, their workers, visitors, and customers safe.
The virus can, and has affected employers in a variety of ways and will continue to do so in the coming months:
- Absenteeism can be a problem, both from workers who fall ill and from those who must stay home to care for sick family members. Some employees stay at home because they are immunocompromised and afraid to come to work.
- Commerce has changed radically in the meantime, with some businesses experiencing high demand while others have declined. Consumer shopping patterns changed radically over the past several months, with many opting for e-commerce over in-person store visits.
- Supply chain was radically disrupted as shipments were cut off in a ripple effect as the virus made its way around the globe.
While many companies were ill-prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic in March, most have adapted to the challenges inherent in the pandemic. As the winter approaches, and the risk of cold and flu in addition to COVID-19 makes an impact, how will your business adapt to continue to create a safe working environment?
Revisiting Your Infectious Disease Preparedness Plan
Revisiting your infectious disease preparedness and response plan is critical as we prepare for the coming cold and flu season. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:
- Moving forward, what areas of your business will be at risk for a COVID-19 hot spot outbreak? How will you protect coworkers and customers from potentially sick individuals? As the local regulations fluctuate, how will your business respond?
- Will you have a different set of protocols for workers at higher risk due to individual risk factors such as chronic medical conditions or pregnancy? What controls will you establish? How will you identify and isolate sick people in your business?
- Are there ways for your business to leverage any quarantined but asymptomatic workers to continue to leverage their profitability even from home? For example, many hospitals used their quarantined but asymptomatic clinical staff to field telemedicine calls, keeping them productive even while they sheltered in place?
As you continue to revise these protocols, contingency planning is an important part of a proactive response to the pandemic. While you will not be able to plan for every eventuality, your goal should be to lessen the instances of reacting to situations as they arise. This planning and foresight should take into account:
- The possibility of virus spikes during cold and flu season that will increase absenteeism not only at your business but also in your supply chain. If you haven’t developed supply chain redundancies, now is the time.
- Exposure-reducing measures, such as staggered work shifts, downsized operations, continued remote services and ramped up e-commerce models.
- Cross-training workers to cover for increased absenteeism. You should also maintain flexible work policies that permit employees to stay home when they or a family member are sick.
- Strategies to minimize any face-to-face contact between workers or between your employee and a customer.
- Collaboration with insurance benefits providers to provide information about telemedicine and medical coverage during the outbreak.
It’s also a good time to review some of the safe work practices that you established earlier in the year to determine what has been effective and what could be improved. For example, many employers:
- Provide additional personal hygiene resources such as no-touch trash cans, hand sanitizing stations, disinfectants, disposable towels, and setting cleaning guidelines for every workstation in your business.
- Provide personal protective gear to their employees such as face shields, masks, gloves, or goggles.
- Install physical barriers such as clear plexiglass sneeze guards between workers.
Communication will continue to remain key to your response to the pandemic. Communicating with workers and customers should remain a cornerstone of your response. Sharing information on company policies related to the prevention of the virus is just as important as making sure your employees understand what kind of medical screening or other health resources are available. One of the resources many employers have adopted is telemedicine.
Telemedicine to Keep Your Workers Safe
Online virtual healthcare has become the hero of the COVID-19 pandemic. Telemedicine is now the go-to alternative for the riskier in-office traditional healthcare visit. Slowing the spread of COVID-19 with telemedicine is now a generally accepted best practice for employers and individuals around the country.
As a result, CNBC reports there will likely be one billion telemedicine visits this year. Large health systems like Mass General reported more than one million telemedicine visits by early September. By late September, the North Carolina Department of Medicaid reported one million telemedicine visits. Telemedicine allows these clinical providers to triage and treat patients while limiting the risk of exposure to other patients and clinical staff. Employers and insurers also embraced telemedicine as a way to bring healthcare to the patient efficiently and safely.
OrthoLive offers an orthopedic-specific telemedicine product suitable for employers seeking a way to use telemedicine to treat on-site workplace injuries. It’s a critical service for keeping employees away from emergency departments with a high influx of COVID-19 patients.
If you’d like to find out more about Remote Injury Care and telemedicine for workers’ compensation, talk with OrthoLive. We are standing by to keep your workplace safer.
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