Reopening a Business After COVID-19: Staff and Client Safety
Stay-at-home regulations are scaling back. How will business owners know it is acceptable to reopen? The following are some things to keep in mind.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an unprecedented effect on daily life, many business owners are looking forward to a return to normalcy. As stay-at-home orders are gradually reduced and nonessential businesses can resume operations, there’s a lot for organizations to consider before they reopen their doors.
Determining When to Reopen
While many essential businesses (e.g., hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations) have remained open during the pandemic, other operations deemed nonessential have shut down temporarily or changed the nature of their operations, such as using curbside pickup and/or delivery of food and retail items.
However, as stay-at-home regulations are scaled back and businesses can resume in some capacity, the question is: How will business owners know it is acceptable to reopen? The following are some things to keep in mind:
- Review guidance from state and local governments—The COVID-19 pandemic impacts states and regions in different ways. As such, it’s critical to understand and review all relevant state and local orders to determine when your business can reopen.
- Understand the risks—If and when the government allows all businesses to reopen, that doesn’t necessarily mean COVID-19 is no longer a threat to your operations. What’s more, some businesses may have greater COVID-19 exposures than others, underscoring the importance of performing a thorough risk assessment before reopening. Prior to conducting a risk assessment, it’s important to review guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local agencies, industry associations and your local health department.
Understanding the risks
Safely restarting your business won’t be as simple as unlocking the front door. Before reopening, businesses should seek the expertise of legal, insurance and other professionals and perform a risk assessment to determine what steps must be taken. While the complexity of risk assessments will differ from business to business, they typically involve the following steps:
- Identifying the hazards—When it comes to COVID-19, businesses need to think about their exposures, particularly if an infected person entered their facility. When identifying hazards, it’s a good idea to perform a walkthrough of the premises and consider areas where customers will congregate and where they will interact with employees. Keeping in mind that people move the virus to other people and objects in the environment, where will people be that they could potentially pass the virus to others?
- Controlling risks—With a sense of what risks might impact your business, you can then consider ways to address them. For COVID-19, control measures include cleaning protocols, social distancing, personal protective equipment, and more. The next section of this article goes into depth regarding potential workplace controls.
- Monitoring the results— Once you’ve implemented a control, you’ll want to monitor its effectiveness and reassess. Remember, COVID-19 risks facing your business change over time. What we knew several months ago is not what we know today, and what we know in two months will be even different. Keep your ear on what the experts are saying, particularly related to your type of business.
Maintaining Workplace Safety Using OSHA and CDC Guidance
As stated above, the risks and measures that organizations take to address those risks will vary by business and industry. Thankfully, OSHA and CDC have recommended workplace controls if your risk assessment determines that COVID-19 poses a threat to your employees or customers. For instance, you should:
- Consider engineering controls—Engineering controls protect workers by removing hazardous conditions or by placing a barrier between the worker and the hazard. For COVID-19, engineering controls can include installing physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards at checkout registers or installing high-efficiency air filters and increasing ventilation rates in the facility.
- Implement administrative controls—Typically, administrative controls are changes in work policies or procedures that reduce or minimize an individual’s exposure to a hazard. An example of an administrative control for COVID-19 is establishing alternating days or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a facility at a given time. Restaurants may implement controls such as removing buffets, using disposable menus and condiment packets or continuing to encourage carryout or delivery options even when dining area restrictions have been lifted.
- Encourage social distancing—Social distancing is the practice of deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. In terms of COVID-19, social distancing best practices for businesses can include:
- Avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people. This may mean changes to a facility layout, such as separating dining tables more than usual or marking floors in checkout areas so that customers stay at safe distances from one another.
- Instructing workers to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other people
- Limiting the number of people on site to only those needed to effectively run the business.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning and disinfection—Businesses should regularly sanitize their facility to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some best practices include:
- Cleaning and disinfecting all frequently touched surfaces in the facility, such as tables, door handles, computer equipment, food service stations, etc.
- Discouraging workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other tools and equipment, when possible. If necessary, clean and disinfect them before and after use.
- Providing disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.
- Follow guidance on the CDC’s Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities
- Support respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene—Businesses should encourage good hygiene to prevent the spread of COVD-19. This can involve:
- Providing tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles
- Placing hand sanitizers in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene
- Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)— PPE is equipment worn by individuals to reduce exposure to a hazard. In the case of COVID-19, masks (including makeshift varieties) have become the most common form of PPE. Employees should understand how to properly put on, take off and care for PPE. Local regulations and advice from health professionals should be used to determine if workers should use masks on the job.
- Manage the different risk levels of their employees—It’s important to be aware that some employees may be at higher risk for serious illness, such as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions. Consider minimizing face-to-face contact between these employees or assign work tasks that allow them to maintain a distance of 6 feet from other workers, customers and visitors.
- Separate sick employees—Employees who appear to have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough or shortness of breath) upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers and visitors, and sent home. If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19. The employer should instruct fellow employees about how to proceed based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure.
While resuming operations following the COVID-19 pandemic may seem like a daunting task, businesses don’t have to go it alone. To help with this process, organizations can seek the help of other trusted professionals to determine what actions they need to take to ensure their business reopens smoothly.
- CDC: Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities
- CDC: Business and Workplaces: Plan, Prepare, and Respond
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration: Best Practices for Retail Food Stores, Restaurants, and Food Pick-Up/Delivery Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- National Retail Federation: Coronavirus Resources for Retailers
- America’s Small Business Development Center: COVID-19 Small Business Resources
- OSHA: COVID-19 eTools
For information on how to properly prepare your building for reopening after a COVID-19 closure, please refer to this document.
For state-specific information regarding reopening a business: https://www.uschamber.com/article/state-by-state-business-reopening-guidance
Portions of this article courtesy of Zywave Risk Insights
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