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Workplace Reopening COVID-19

As West Virginia moves forward with reopening plans, it is critical for businesses of all types to prepare their workplaces and employees for controlling and reducing the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus in the workplace.

Because the type of exposure potential varies greatly from industry to industry, it is difficult to create a one-size-fits all set of recommendations for all businesses. Much of the guidance for reopening that is available from federal agencies, industry associations and labor groups provide additional resources for further industry-specific recommendations.

With that in mind, the following is general guidance and a minimum starting point for all businesses based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, The Center for Construction Research and Training, the North American Building Trades Unions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Remember, businesses should identify industry-specific resources to more adequately prepare for their specific workplace environment.

Designate a safety officer or someone within the company to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns at every worksite location. Workers should know who this individual is and how to contact them.

Actively encourage or require sick employees to stay home. If an employee indicates symptoms of the COVID-19 virus, they should immediately notify the employer/designated safety officer and stay home. It is critical for employers to support and encourage their employees to do this.

Sick employees should not return to work until the criteria to end home isolation are met, and they have consulted with a health care provider.

  • Symptom-based: According to the CDC, if the employee has symptoms and was directed to care for themselves at home, the employee can end their isolation under two conditions:
    • At least 72 hours (3 full days) have passed with no fever without medication and there has been an improvement in respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, etc.)
    • AND
    • At least 10 days have passed since the symptoms first appeared.
  • Test-based: According to the CDC, if the employee tested positive for COVID-19, the employee can end their isolation under two conditions:
    • The recommendations above for symptom-based situations
    • AND
    • Negative results from at least two COVID-19 tests taken more than 24 hours apart.

Employees who are well but have a sick family member at home should notify their employer/designated safety officer and follow the suggested CDC guidelines for this situation.

  • If the employee is asymptomatic, they can continue to work.
  • If the employee is symptomatic or if the company chooses to follow more conservative protocols, self-quarantine for 14 days from the last date of close contact with the carrier.

Employers are encouraged to implement flexible sick leave and other necessary supportive policies and practices. If sick leave is not offered to all employees, consider drafting non-punitive emergency sick leave policies. Employers should reach out to local public health officials to establish ongoing communications to provide employees with access to relevant information before and during a local outbreak.

Establish and implement safe work practices to reduce virus transmission. When possible, allow employees to work from home. If that is not feasible, employers should consider modifying work schedules to stagger work, providing alternating workdays or extra shifts to reduce the total number of workers on a job site at any given time.

Confined and enclosed areas (e.g., small offices, trailers, shops) should be identified and access restricted to essential personnel only. Enclosed spaces (e.g., restroom stalls, elevators/hoists, break areas) are potential transmission areas, so workers should minimize time spent in these areas.

When employees must work in close contact due to the nature of the work (confined space or inside an unventilated, closed building envelope) and when physical distancing is not possible, employers are encouraged to implement temperature screening of employees. The thermometers used should be no-touch or no-contact thermometers.

Cancel or postpone in-person meetings/trainings whenever possible. If the meeting/training must happen, maintain social distancing with a minimum of 6 feet of separation.

Ensure workers are following proper workplace hygiene and using personal protective equipment. Educate workers on proper workplace hygiene practices. Employees should avoid touching their faces (e.g., eyes, noses, mouths) and cover coughs and sneezes with their arm or a tissue, which should be promptly discarded.

While on the worksite, gloves and eye protection appropriate to the task should always be worn. Employees should avoid sharing any type of PPE. If physical distancing cannot be used, workers in close contact or working in confined areas also should wear appropriate face coverings.

Educate workers on the importance of hand-washing and decontamination. To prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the workplace, train employees on proper hand-washing practices. Provide employees with access to soap, clean running water and materials for drying their hands.

For instances when hand-washing is not possible, provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations in multiple locations for use by workers and customers to encourage proper hand hygiene.

In addition to proper workplace hygiene, each job site should develop cleaning and decontamination procedures that cover tools, trailers, gates, equipment, vehicles, door handles, handrails, restrooms, porta-potty stations, etc. The decontamination process should be done at least once a day or more often, if feasible.

Note: This is not an all-inclusive list of recommendations nor does it address all workplace scenarios. Companies should consult industry-specific resources to more adequately prepare their specific workplace environment.

Additional COVID-19 resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
The Center for Construction Research and Training
North American Building Trades Unions
National Association of Home Builders
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration – Interim Guidance for Manufacturing Workers and Employers