Facility managers, property managers and operation managers can use the concept of the “hierarchy of controls” to implement engineering, administrative and personal protective equipment (PPE) workplace controls to minimize occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Using best practice guidance, BSI is offering key tips on implementing effective workplace controls for the duration of the current pandemic and for re-opening and managing your facility when allowed.
Inspect your Building for Safe Conditions
One of the first steps to restarting your business operations is to perform comprehensive building inspections, especially if your facility has not been fully operational, to identify potentially unsafe conditions and correct any deficiencies. Inspect and maintain your building’s heating, ventilation, air-conditioning (HVAC) to ensure that the HVAC system provides adequate filtration, increase outdoor air and building air changes based on American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) guidelines to promote good indoor air quality. Open the minimum outdoor air dampers to as high as 100%, thus eliminating recirculation. (In the mild weather season, this need not affect thermal comfort or humidity, but becomes more difficult in extreme weather). Improve central air filtration to the Minimum Efficiency Rating Value (MERV-13) or the highest compatible with the filter rack, and seal edges of the filter to limit bypass. Keep systems running longer hours, if possible 24/7. Local exhaust ventilation systems, such as fume hoods used to limit exposure to hazardous materials, must also be inspected and certified prior to re-use.
Ensure water plumbing infrastructure systems, such as cooling towers, water mains, building plumbing lines, and water heaters are inspected and managed to prevent stagnant water and Legionella bacteria growth, which increases the risk of Legionnaires' disease. Ensure fire, life safety systems and emergency equipment are operational. Automated fire sprinklers, smoke detection sensors, pull stations, public address systems, and emergency eye wash and showers are critical safety components that should be verified to be in working order.
Perform a Workplace Risk Assessment
Start by reviewing the OSHA job exposure guidance and determining the risk level of your essential employees. The guidance will help determine the level of control needed to protect employees from potential exposures. Other factors, such as conditions in communities where employees live and work, their activities outside of work (including travel to COVID-19 affected areas), and individual health conditions, may also affect workers' risk of getting COVID-19 and/or developing complications from the illness. OSHA has divided job tasks into four risk exposure levels: very high, high, medium, and lower risk. It is important to use the results of the risk assessment to match hazard controls that will be required in your facility.
Modify Facility Operations – Cleaning and Disinfection
Implement facility cleaning and decontamination plans in high traffic areas, such as lobbies, restrooms, elevators, and breakrooms based on guidelines recommended by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) and using disinfectants recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against SARS-CoV-2. The following link includes a list of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2
Ensure employees or contractors performing cleaning procedures are trained on the chemical hazards of the disinfectants and use appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, safety glasses and respirators, if required. Close off or post clear signage in areas where these activities are being performed. Provide disposable cleaning wipes for employees to clean their personal workstations, phones, and shared office equipment or tools.
Create a Plan to Prioritize the Re-Occupancy of Employees to Your Buildings
Plan which employee groups return to your facilities based on essential business needs. Establish work schedules to stagger and rotate employees, offer multiple and flexible work shifts, and use remote and virtual work platforms. Postpone or reschedule the start-up of non-essential operations/facilities that may place employees at higher risk of exposure such as cafeteria/food preparation services, exercise rooms/gyms, break/lunchroom seating areas, and large gatherings such as all-hands meetings. Provide training and communication to all employees on the procedures to protect the workplace from COVID-19.
Provide ergonomics support to the remote worker population or employees with relocated workstations due to physical distancing requirements. Establish a robust physical/social distancing policy and reconfigure workspaces to support the requirements. Nominate physical/social distancing champions to promote the efforts. Post door signs to indicate maximum occupancy limits in conference rooms, break areas, and offices where reductions are needed to accommodate social distancing guidance.
Reduce Worker’s Risk of Exposure with Basic Infection Prevention Measures
Businesses are encouraged to develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan in conjunction with human resources and occupational medical resources. The plan should include procedures to prevent exposure and procedures when workers become ill. Everyone plays a role in reducing risk of infection to diseases. Roles and responsibilities for managers, supervisors, human resources and employees must be documented and communicated. Provide training to employees on the infectious disease preparedness and response plan.
Businesses may implement basic good hygiene and infection control practices in the workplace such as hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and face coverings or respirators. Implement signs at the facility entrances, restrooms, break rooms and other locations to use hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette for employees, customers, and worksite visitors recommended by the CDC.
- Hand Hygiene - Promote frequent and thorough hand washing for at least 20 seconds by providing workers, customers, and onsite visitors with a place to use soap and water to wash their hands. If soap and running water are not immediately available, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette principles - Use a tissue or cough into the inner part of the elbow and away from people. Throw used tissues in the trash. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
- Face Coverings - Implement the use of face coverings and develop policies for how it will be provided and where it will be used at your facility. Provide training for its proper use, storage, and disposal. It is important to understand the differences between a cloth face covering, medical mask, and N95 respirator:
- Cloth face coverings are designed and effective to protect others from a sick or asymptomatic worker(s)
- Medical masks are a loose-fitting face covering that protects others from sick or asymptomatic worker(s)
- A N95 respirator is designed and effective to protect the user from others. For workers required to wear an N95 respirator, the employer must meet additional regulatory requirements that include a written document describing responsibilities, job tasks, authorized respirator users, implementation steps, and recordkeeping procedures of a formal Respiratory Protection Program. The user must complete an initial and periodic medical evaluation, conduct initial and annual training and complete an annual fit test on each make and model of respirator that will be used.
Implement procedures for employees to perform a self-assessment of health prior to entering the workplace, including if they are immunocompromised. It is important to help educate individuals on how to identify symptoms prior to entering the workplace. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Less common symptoms include aches and pains, chills, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or headache. These symptoms can be similar to a common cold and/or flu.
Establish medical screening procedures, including considerations for temperature screenings. Consistent criteria for the health screenings needs to be developed before implementation. For example, if screening for fevers, the type of thermometer and threshold temperature should be identified and consistently used. A periodic review of the screening policies should be implemented on a frequent basis to ensure it is still in alignment with the best practices recommended by local and federal agencies.
Implement medical surveillance policies to manage employees who become ill while at work. Procedures for handling positive cases should be in place. A worker may start to experience symptoms at home or at work. Ask workers to stay home if they are sick. If an employee becomes ill while at work, they should be sent home immediately. If the employee had been working in the facility, their work area should be disinfected with an EPA approved disinfectant.
Returning to work will be dependent on the worker’s symptoms and occupation and if testing or non-testing strategies will be used.
These guidelines, which are based on currently available scientific information from leading agencies involved in the pandemic such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are subject to change and should be referred to for the latest updates.