PATH to Reopening Your Business
Wednesdays with Woodward webinar
July 1, 2020
Bill Shoemaker, Senior Industrial Hygienist at Travelers, and Chris Hayes, Second Vice President of Risk Control at Travelers, joined Wednesdays with Woodward to explore how employers can responsibly reopen for business while taking measures to help stop or limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Shoemaker and Hayes explained that COVID-19 is not a classic occupational risk, such as exposures generated from work tasks like metal fumes from welding. Business owners should address the unique risk of COVID-19 exposure by enacting a risk management process that can interrupt and minimize the transmission potential in the workplace. Both speakers cautioned that businesses that have already reopened should not get complacent and encouraged business owners and managers to continue monitoring their practices by staying connected to employees and adapting as necessary.
To help businesses address COVID-19 in the workplace, Hayes and Shoemaker outlined the PATH framework:
Plan: Begin by assessing the risk level, formulating a strategy based upon that risk level and using resources such as the CDC, OSHA or state/local authorities.
Act: Put into place appropriate controls to reduce the risk of transmission in the workplace. Hayes and Shoemaker highlighted the “hierarchy of controls,” a concept commonly used by safety and risk managers. The COVID-19 hierarchy of controls should involve:
- Elimination: While businesses may not be able to eliminate the virus itself, businesses can discontinue tasks or functions that require large gatherings or close contact between employees. Since people are the source of transmission, businesses can remove some transmission sources by determining which employees are essential to being at the worksite and which employees can work from home. Other examples of elimination could include doing away with reception seating areas to prevent group gatherings; removing shared services, such as community coffee bars; and halting unnecessary travel.
- Substitution: Business owners are advised to replace activities and operations that require many people in small areas with activities that are more conducive to physical distancing, including running virtual conferences/trainings, using curbside delivery and utilizing larger conference venues to accommodate social distancing.
- Engineering: Business owners should establish controls that interrupt the pathway of transmission. These controls can deflect airborne aerosols from entering an employee’s breathing zone or eliminate physical contact with potentially contaminated surfaces. Businesses can install plastic barriers for bank tellers, cashiers and receptionists; use no-touch motion sensor-activated trash receptacles, faucets, soap dispensers and entry doors; reconfigure workstations to achieve a 6-foot separation distance; and establish flow patterns using either floor arrows or barriers and distance markings to help maintain 6 feet of separation.
- Administration: Businesses should enact clear policies and procedures, and train employees to be fluent in COVID-19 workplace safety. This can include modifying work shifts; reducing the occupancy of common areas, elevators or break rooms; and establishing hand hygiene, cleaning, and disinfecting practices and expectations.
Training and education: Almost every organization is going to have changes to processes and protocols, which will require ongoing communication and training. Businesses should communicate with employees before they come back to the workplace. Moreover, business owners should solicit feedback from employees; some of the best ideas in workplace safety come from the people working in the shop, on the line or on the warehouse floor. In addition, business leaders need to be flexible and willing to adapt; ideas that appeared promising in theory may not be effective in practice. Some controls will require a daily commitment from employees, and it is important that leaders get involved and model the way.
Health: To help reduce transmission pathways, regular and frequent cleaning and disinfection based on CDC guidelines are key. The CDC defines cleaning as a first step, using soap and water to physically remove dirt from surfaces. While cleaning may not kill germs, it lowers the risk of spreading infection and primes surfaces and objects for disinfection. Disinfecting refers to the cleaning of shared “high-touch” areas, such as entryways, lobbies, hallways, break rooms and restrooms, on a scheduled basis using an N-listed EPA disinfectant in accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction. In addition, employees should be empowered and equipped to clean and disinfect their workspaces and tools.