Best practices to ensure the health and safety of your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic
The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everyday life for everyone in Canada. Non-essential businesses have been forced to temporarily shut down and individuals have been asked to limit all but the most essential of social interactions.
While these are temporary measures, businesses will need to implement mitigation measures in their operations to continue or resume their operations in the months ahead.
“When non-essential businesses open back up again, they will likely have to maintain social distancing measures for several months,” says Isabelle Ledoux, Senior Business Advisor with BDC Advisory Services.
Follow the advice of public health agencies
Ledoux, who has been working with businesses in the food industry to modify their operations as they remain open, stresses that federal and provincial public health and work safety agencies should be the primary sources of expertise in the current situation.
“Business owners should go see the federal and provincial public health websites to understand what measures are required as well as the best practices that they recommend,” she says.
She offers the following advice to help limit the spread of the virus in your workplace, based on her experience in the food industry.
Implement basic hygiene measures
The most basic thing you can do to limit risk of exposure is to encourage remote work. Workers can’t spread the virus if they stay home.
Where that is not possible, businesses need to implement measures that encourage social distancing and basic hygiene.
- Require sick workers to stay home.
- Require that every worker wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds regularly (before and after their break, at the end of the workday, and during work, whenever possible).
- Ask workers to avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Limit situations where employees will need to be within two meters (six feet) of each other.
Apply social distancing measures
In essential sectors such as food and medical supplies manufacturing and distribution, many businesses have gone further to ensure the health and of their workers.
We have all seen, for instance, the plexiglass screens that have started to appear in grocery stores and drugstores.
Ledoux says that some manufacturers are now installing plastic curtains to separate workers on conveyor belts or machines. Workstations also need to be spaced out to ensure distancing.
Some companies have gone as far as hiring security guards to make sure employees wash their hands before and after their breaks, as well as enforce a minimum of two meters (six feet) distance between people standing in line to wash their hands.
Modify your common spaces
The use of common spaces, such as dining rooms, cafeterias and break rooms, also needs to be reconsidered.
“For people to start working again, lunch hours and pauses will have to be re-examined,” says Ledoux. “Schedules have to be reviewed: You can’t have too many people in one space.”
In some businesses where office employees are now working from home, for example, closed offices have been repurposed to serve as dining rooms.
“Breaks and lunches will have to be scattered across the workday. It’s going to slow you down, but it’s better than not being able to operate at all.”
Companies have also added more microwaves and separated tables in the dining room so workers can sit apart from each other.
“Employees are going to feel like they’re confined, but it’s necessary for operations to continue,” says Ledoux. “Some people will be happier because they’ll feel more secure.”
Clean more thoroughly
Ledoux says that cleaning will have to be stepped up for most companies.
Equipment will have to be cleaned at the end and beginning of every shift. Where employees rotate from one station to the other during a shift, machines will need to be disinfected at every rotation. Touch screens and buttons also need to be cleaned thoroughly.
Where uniforms are used, they should be washed or changed every day. Laundry should ideally be done by an external firm, a requirement for getting certified in the food industry.
Ledoux says that not all of these practices should go away once the current crisis has passed.
“Large chains use schedules to make sure bathrooms are regularly cleaned. These are the kinds of best practices that every business should implement and keep once this is over.”
Rethink your entire operations
Because of the major changes that will have to happen in the short-term for businesses to reopen, Ledoux says your entire operations will have to be reviewed, from the flow of materials and operations, to your employee schedules.
“We need to think two, three steps ahead, not just to the immediate problem,” she says. “It’s something we are used to doing in the food industry, other companies have to start thinking like that now. We all have to become clean freaks!”
“We never thought this or that workstation would have a risk. Office furniture, machines, even the coffee machine becomes a potential contamination site.”
“We can’t eliminate 100% of risks. Even doctors and nurses are getting infected, but we need to limit it as much as possible if we hope to open back up.”