How to safely resume business after COVID-19

If your business has been closed or operating in reduced capacity due to the coronavirus, there are many things to consider when it comes time to reopen. You will need to make your own decision of when to resume operations based on changing business restrictions and your ability to meet current requirements designed to limit the spread of the virus. Here are some considerations and best practices to keep in mind during this process.

Communication with employees

Be direct in your communication with employees. Leadership should prepare a welcome back message that includes an acknowledgment of personal experience and safety moving forward. Repeat and update this message often – daily if warranted, weekly at minimum.

Supervisors should also be prepared with a similar message to deliver to their employees on the first day they return to work. It should include specific details about employee safety and expectations. Leaders and supervisors can use this sample from SFM as a guide.

Posters are also a great way to share information and expectations related to COVID-19. SFM has a poster available for download in the resource catalog on sfmic.com. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has several posters available for download, which can be found in their print resources catalog on their website . We suggest using the following posters:

We also suggest creating small signs to hang around your business to indicate high-touch areas that should be sanitized often and avoided when possible.

Employee protection and awareness

Provide training to employees regarding new protocols and requirements, including:

  • Social distancing
  • Good hygiene practices
  • Cleaning and sanitizing guidelines
  • Work process changes
  • Employee health screenings

Promote good hygiene practices. The CDC has provided recommendations on when and how to wash hands . All employees should be washing their hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds. Other hygiene practices include covering coughs and sneezes , avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth and staying home when sick.

Provide personal protection equipment and training on use. The most common types of PPE are face masks and gloves. Some industries might also consider face shields, gowns, aprons and shoe coverings.

Implement touchless solutions, such as automated hand sanitizer dispensers, touchless time clocks and individual water bottles instead of drinking fountains.

Training and education

Once your employees have returned to the workplace, conduct trainings that cover the following topics:

  • Hazards in the workplace relating to COVID-19 and new chemicals used for sanitizing workstation and areas
  • PPE, both required and voluntary, and related information, such as hazards, proper use, putting on and removing, maintenance and care, limitations and benefits
  • In the case that your workers must switch back to remote work, be prepared with resources on home ergonomics
  • Remind workers of job-specific hazards that they may have forgotten after being away
  • Remind workers to slow down – being eager to return is great but they will need time to adjust to being back in the workplace

See the section on worker training in OSHA’s recommendations for control and prevention of COVID-19 for more information.

Maintain a clean and healthy work environment

When it comes time to reopen your business, be sure to follow the CDC’s recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting . Some best practices include:

  • Develop a cleaning schedule and plan
  • Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting
  • Use EPA approved disinfectants and never mix bleach with other cleaning chemicals
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas several times through the day, such as:
    • Entrance doors
    • Handrails, door knobs, light switches
    • Equipment and work surfaces
    • Desks and tables
    • Drinking fountains and faucet fixtures
    • Shared touchscreens, keyboards, mouses, phones
  • Increase ventilation rates and outdoor air circulation

If an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, shut down and decontaminate any work areas where they’ve been. Refer to the CDC’s guidance on how to properly disinfect the workplace in this scenario.

Social distancing

If possible, employees should be encouraged to work from home. However, when that isn’t feasible, use these tactics to limit onsite employee contact:

  • Stagger work start and end times
  • Stagger break and lunch times
  • Restrict access to lunch and break areas
  • Encourage eating outside, in cars or at desks
  • Restrict and manage designated smoking areas
  • If vehicle use is necessary, limit one person per vehicle

Work areas should be reconfigured to allow for 6 feet of distance, with visual markers provided for awareness. If you don’t already have them, install temporary walls or shields between work spaces. Establish one-way walkways to reduce contact between employees, and restrict movement between work areas.

Meetings should be conducted virtually whenever possible. Any in-person meetings should be limited to 10 people or less, allowing for 6 feet of distance between individuals.

Physical work and exertion

Once your team has returned to work, one of your priorities should be getting back up to speed without injuries. Don’t expect workers to be able to do as much physical work for a few days or even weeks after restarting. Consider lowering the typical lifting limits and production goals.

Communicate with your employees while easing them back into their jobs. Encourage them to listen to what their body is telling them and refrain from pushing their limits due to expectations of higher performance level. Remind them to stretch before work and throughout the day. More information on stretching can be found on SFM’s website.

Health monitoring

You will need to create a policy for reporting symptoms, what employees should do if they test positive for COVID-19 and the process for returning to work after being sick. Be sure to clearly communicate these policies with your employees. You will also need a plan for how to respond to employees who begin exhibiting a fever or other symptoms while at work. See these recommendations from the CDC for more information.

If your state health department requires health screening or if you decide to implement a process on your own, there are several applications available online and through vendors. You will need to determine if self-screen or point-of-entry screen will work best for you.

Be sure to have several options available for employee leave for those who may miss work due to COVID-19 or who are caring for family members who are sick.

It’s wise to contact your employment law attorney before implementing any mandatory health screenings or other requirements.

Travel considerations

Try to limit travel as much as possible. Consider remote options instead of attending in person. Be aware that travel outside of the country and to areas with COVID-19 breakouts could require a two-week quarantine once the employee returns home. Follow current guidance from your state’s health department.

Customer considerations

Limit in-person contact with customers as much as possible. Some methods to consider:

  • Switch appropriate business services to virtual means
  • Offer call-ahead ordering and touchless delivery to vehicles rather than in-store pick-up
  • Offer drive-through service, if available
  • Utilize contactless payment whenever possible
  • Conduct necessary onsite services when the customer’s business is empty, before or after hours, or on weekends

If in-person services can’t be avoided, make sure to follow social distancing measures by providing signs and limiting guest entry, per CDC guidelines. Other additional safety measures to consider include adding plastic barriers or shields at registers or asking customers to wear face coverings. Be sure to frequently clean any high-touch areas.

Vendor and contractor considerations

Review all vendor and contractor activity at your company and determine which are essential and which are not. Consider current department of health requirements for requesting health and travel assessments for vendors and contractors coming onsite.

Separate any vendors or contractors from your employees. Some methods include having designated entrances, separate bathrooms and limited facility travel. Require touchless deliveries to eliminate non-essential entries. Utilize additional cleaning measures for areas they will access. Make sure that everyone is following appropriate social distancing guidelines.

Develop or update vendor and contractor safety policies to include COVID-19 considerations. Be sure to share your policies with vendors and contractors prior to their arrival.

State health departments

Watch your state’s health department website for updates on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting your area.

Helpful links

Find more health and safety information related to the COVID-19 pandemic on the following webpages:

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