Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety
N THIS ISSUE: Social Distancing and Returning to Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Although it is certain it is safe to return to work during the pandemic, many essential businesses have stayed open and many others are opening every day. Meanwhile, a number of organizations have published information on how to re-start businesses in the safest manner possible.
Lancet, a well respected British medical journal, recently published a study by the World Health Organization. The study attempted to investigate the effects of physical distance, facemasks, and eye protection on virus transmission in health-care and non-health-care settings. The study compiled the results from 172 observational investigations from 16 countries and six continents. The results were the following:
- Cases were lower with physical distances of one meter. Cases were even lower with physical distance of greater than one meter.
- N95 facemask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection as compared to surgical or cotton layer masks.
- Eye protection was also associated with less infection.
In various publications, OSHA has also suggested social distancing in the workplace to reduce COVID-19 infections:
- Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick.
- Isolate any worker who begins to exhibit symptoms until they can either go home or leave to seek medical care.
- Establish flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), if feasible.
- In workplaces where customers are present, mark six-foot distances with floor tape in areas where lines form, use drive-through windows or curbside pickup, and limit the number of customers allowed at one time.
- Stagger breaks and rearrange seating in common break areas to maintain physical distance between workers.
- Move or reposition workstations to create more distance, and install plexiglass partitions.
- For work activities where social distancing is a challenge, consider limiting the duration of these activities and/or implementing innovative approaches, such as temporarily moving or repositioning workstations to create more distance or installing barriers (e.g., plexiglass shields) between workstations
- Encourage workers to bring any safety and health concerns to the employers’ attention.
Other OSHA recommendations include:
- Allow workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent spread of the virus. Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
- Discourage workers from using other workers’ tools and equipment.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals that have label claims against the coronavirus.
- Promote personal hygiene. If workers do not have access to soap and water for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Provide disinfectants and disposable towels workers can use to clean work surfaces.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a number of fact sheets that are specific to several industries. It recommends that persons limit close contact with others by maintaining a distance of six feet apart, when possible. It also recommends “wearing cloth face coverings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. It warns that cloth face coverings are not surgical masks or respirators and are not appropriate substitutes for them in workplaces where masks or respirators are recommended or required.”
Returning to work during the Corona Virus pandemic is a difficult decision for both employers and workers. In any event, organizations such as OSHA, the CDC, and the World Health Organization have numerous publications that can help them return with reduced exposure to the disease. In all these publications, social distancing is a most important action that can be taken at work.
Be smart, be well, be six feet apart!
OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.
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