After over six months of working from home, many small businesses are facing a new challenge – building assurance of how to safely return to their workplace. Now, the Illinois Department of Labor is launching the ‘Back to Business’ program, which helps small businesses to protect their workers and customers before they even plan to reopen. As businesses with less than 25 employees can apply, the program combines online training to help navigate through every detail, such as configuring office space to quarantine protocols for employees with potential symptoms.

Understanding The Rights Of Workers Protection

The global pandemic has affected the economy and workplace for the foreseeable future. This has caused unexpected changes that have caused a significant amount of stress to our workforce. Approximately 70% admit that the effect of the pandemic in the economy has caused them significant amounts of stress, according to a poll by the American Psychological Association (APA). To mitigate factors in the work area that might reduce risk and stress on the employees, certain guidelines had to be implemented.

It is the responsibility of the worker to practice social distancing in and around the workplace. However, despite the increase in safety protocols, employees may still be prone to illness and accidents in the workplace. Thus, it is important to seek assistance from personal injury attorneys to help educate you on your rights as an employee and determine where responsibility lies, according to FVF Law.

Health & Safety Shouldn’t Be Taken Lightly

COVID can be rapidly spread and can lead to a temporary suspension of the company. To help in this, four principle guidelines have been developed by the OSHA that should be consistently practiced in the workplace. These are consistently practicing social distancing, covering one’s cough and sneezes, maintaining good hand hygiene, and disinfecting surfaces frequently. If properly managed, these practices will significantly reduce the risk of outbreaks in the workplace.

Since the pandemic began, approximately one in three Americans have experienced signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to a poll by AHA. This has affected worker productivity in all areas of the workforce. Employees reserve the right to seek mental care for their health without the fear of retaliation from their employers. But according to the same poll by AHA, only 50% of employees feel comfortable discussing the matter about their mental health. This leads to a rather unhealthy collection of emotions that are amplified with the current stress brought about by the global pandemic.

Facing Challenges of Crowded Spaces

The CDC guidelines for business reopening say that sanitary supplies like hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol, soap, tissues, paper towels, and no-contact trash cans must be readily available for employees and staff. According to Dr. Jay Varkey, professor of medicine at Emory University Hospital, ‘there should be a sanitization station and every entrance and exit of every door and elevator.” After all, some people may choose to press elevator buttons with extended objects or disposable tissues.

Now’s the time to be in the habit of following proper hand hygiene after touching surfaces. Ideally, the office building would limit the capacity of people to enter an elevator and allow for separation. You can also reduce the risk of touching an elevator button by sanitizing your hands when you exit the elevator. Not to mention, stay diligent about wearing a mask and riding with a maximum of two other people.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Staying Safe Common Shared Facilities

Following the safety protocols of grocery stores and hospitals alike, the CDC recommends that offices close communal break rooms or stagger use to avoid the risk of too many individuals congregating at a time. It is also important to add floor markings to define spaces where you can’t use physical barriers, according to the guidelines. The same for the bathroom.

While you can avoid the risks of entering if many people are using the restroom all at home, it is also important to avoid high-touch surfaces and follow proper hygiene. High-touch communal items such as coffee makers, soap dispensers, or even shared lunches with your office mates should be avoided. So, what about lunch breaks? Instead, high-touch communal items should be replaced with pre-packaged alternatives for single servings, according to the CDC guidelines.

Employees should also continue to wear masks even when taking breaks and keep a strict physical distance in any shared space. This is especially true in spaces where employees like to socialize, as there’s a tendency to relax in that type of setting. Instead, opt to take lunch breaks and meetings outside, where there is less of a chance of transmitting the virus.

Taking A Cooperative Approach

For a healthy relationship among employers and employees, understanding of the current situation is important. Both should understand the differences between a global pandemic to the common season flu and the risks it poses. And due to certain risks, employers have made the option of working remotely to decrease outbreaks in the workplace while also maintaining productivity. But in certain areas, working remotely is not possible, such as in customer-oriented businesses. In these circumstances, establishments should adhere to local social distancing guidelines and advise workers to avoid close physical contact for the safety of themselves and those around them. Both parties need a collaborative approach to ensure everyone’s safety.

As per the CDC guidelines, businesses must enforce wearing face masks when feasible. It is especially important to wear a mask when you’re in areas where you can’t maintain proper social distance, such as the hallway or escalators.

Source: European Commission – Europa EU

Is Regular Testing Necessary?

Regular testing could be one part of a business’ strategy when returning to work. However, this can give employees a false sense of security. For example, if an employee tests negative for Covid-19 or positive for antibodies, they may assume that they can let their guard down by following other prevention and safety measures.

When in fact, tests are not 100% accurate at all times, so there is a possibility that a test could produce a false negative or positive. With that said, testing is vitally important if you are experiencing symptoms of the virus. Not to mention, don’t be surprised if your workplace includes other measures in place, such as daily health checks that include screening for symptoms and temperature.

For safety reasons, businesses can take part by completing a series of online modules at the Dept. of Labor website. With that, businesses can complete the program to show employees and customers that the necessary measures have been addressed to help keep everyone safe in the workplace.