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Across the US, states are beginning the process of reopening businesses and economies as the novel coronavirus ebbs. For businesses, reopening is another challenge to navigate after this tumultuous period.
How do you go about reopening a building that has been empty for some time? How do you ensure employee safety? How do you minimize risks?
These questions and more will occupy business owners as they plan for reopening in a post-COVID world. Luckily, there are many helpful strategies and tips you can use to make the reopening process as seamless as possible for you and your employees.
Here’s what you need to know:
Businesses in almost every industry have been drastically affected by the pandemic
If you are examining the damages to your business finances due to the coronavirus pandemic and wondering how to make a comeback, you are not alone. Industries around the world face direct consequences of the economic effects mass illness and shutdowns have created. From the automobile industry to major airline companies, the coronavirus has created problems for business many never would have predicted.
Illustrating the damage, Verizon Connect reported a substantial decrease to driving hours in commercial fleet industries across the nation, indicating a slowdown in business that brings with it a hefty hit to incomes and revenues.
“Harder hit are the house works and business-to-business services industries, which have experienced 17% and 15% decreases respectively,” Verizon reported. These businesses have suffered as COVID-19 changed the way we work, with many now conducting business from home rather than a commercial building.
Coming back from COVID
Now, states are beginning the reopening process, and business owners look to mitigate damages by returning employees to the office and attempting to return to a new normal of business practices.
This is made more difficult by the lack of a cohesive standard of rules for employers. For example, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has remained silent rather than clarifying a consistent set of legal mandates for employers on how to keep employees and customers safe while eliminating liability issues, though they have published info on dealing with cases of COVID. Without proper regulations for conduct in place before reopening, businesses are vulnerable to legal problems as well as health concerns in the workplace.
Preparing and protecting your business means taking the proper steps in maintaining both your physical building and the health procedures you institute before reopening.
Buildings that have gone unoccupied need proper care before use
Just like any equipment, your office building needs proper care and maintenance. If no employees have been present and using the space for a period of time, there are safety precautions you must take to ensure the proper functioning of your workspace.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn against two microbial hazards in particular that can arise in long unoccupied buildings: mold and Legionella.
Inspect for mold
Mold can grow in a matter of days, and in a space in which the presence of water damage may not be caught for some time, it is especially important to check for mold. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends visual inspections and odor detection to track the occurrence of mold. If mold is found, the problem needs to be contained and repaired properly before employees can again occupy the building.
Flush your water system to protect against Legionella
Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ Disease, and it can grow in pipes and stagnant water after a period of weeks. If your building has gone unoccupied or little-used for any extended amount of time, you want to flush your water system with hot and cold water to ensure harmful bacteria are removed and water in the building is replaced with clean water. Doing so will prevent Legionella growth as well as any other harmful chemicals that may have leached into your water system.
Clean and maintain systems
Then, you need to ensure the functionality and cleanliness of your water heater and cooling towers. Disinfect all water features and fountains as well to reduce risk to employees, and ensure the functionality and cleanliness of fire sprinkler systems, eyewash stations, and anywhere else people interact with a water source in your building.
Inspect and maintain all aspects of building water flow, but don’t stop there. Examine and replace HVAC filters and systems when needed for clean air and proper ventilation. Ensure heating, cooling, and airflow all function as they should. The last thing a workplace in the COVID era needs is a stuffy, limited airflow.
Safety precautions will reduce employee risk and business liability
Building preparation isn’t the end of COVID-19 safety measures for a workplace. A lot of thought and preparation should be given as to how business will run to ensure social distancing and sanitization standards, starting before employees even walk in the front door.
Preventing coronavirus at work begins with education. Ensure all employees are provided with clear instructions on safety measures being implemented to encourage social distancing and building circulation, as well as proper respiratory etiquette. If your employees don’t understand the basics of covering their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing or washing their hands for at least 20 seconds, your measures to combat the spread of viruses in the workplace will be futile.
Beyond the basics, there are plenty of strategies you can employ to maintain the safety of your employees as you reopen. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Allow telecommuting when possible
You may have at-risk employees who will not be too eager to return to the workplace. Others simply might not be ready to make the transition back to the old schedule. If possible, accommodating these needs is great for your employees and the safety of your workplace. With fewer people in the office, you can better maintain social distancing standards and regulations, and your employees can better protect themselves against the spread of illness.
- Create a design and circulation plan to limit contact
Before inviting employees back into a brick-and-mortar location, an effective plan to minimize points of close contact between workers should be created. Based on the CDC’s recommendations for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, reorganize your workspace to maintain at least six feet of space between workers. Create one-way traffic in hallways. Limit the number of employees using the bathroom at the same time. Close communal spaces like breakrooms, or stagger break times to keep fewer employees from congregating in one area.
- Enable a healthy atmosphere
A working atmosphere in which employees feel like their health matters will help cut down on ill employees showing up for work. All workers should be able to take off the time they need if they get sick. Encourage sick employees to stay home and monitor employee health where possible. Consult with health professionals for standards on temperature monitoring and disinfectant policies needed in the workplace. Consider OSHA recommendations on how to manage cases of COVID-19 in the building, and be prepared to handle such a situation if it arises.
A healthy work environment enables employees to care for themselves and others through safe social distancing and sanitization practices. As an employer or coworker, you can encourage policies that help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help keep your business functioning smoothly.
Despite the effects of COVID-19 on the global economy, many are coming together in the effort to protect individuals and businesses. Even some larger corporations are making efforts to speed the recovery of the economy. By following safety procedures and enabling a healthy working atmosphere as you prepare to reopen, you can do your part to keep workers safe and comfortable on the job.