How to Keep Your Employees Safe and your Business Open in the COVID Era
COVID-19 is making a comeback in the last part of 2020, primarily because people are dropping their guard against it the way they did in 1918. This threatens the health and safety of stakeholders (workers and customers) as well as continuity of business operations. Extensive guidance is however available on how to protect stakeholders and keep businesses in operation.
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Why Should You Attend:
COVID-19 is a menace not only to the health and safety of workers and customers, but also to business continuity. As but one example, an apparel company was shut down due to a coronavirus outbreak. In addition, OSHA is likely to issue regulations with which employers will have to comply, and businesses can get a head start by acting on OSHA's already-published "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19" upon which a good part of this webinar is based. ASHRAE also provides authoritative guidance on the role heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in mitigating contagion, while engineering controls such as partitions add more distance between people without the need for more floor space. The latter can be vital to restaurants and similar establishments.
Telecommuting, distance education, and distance conferencing meanwhile eliminate coronavirus risks entirely, and also offer the opportunity for enormous cost reductions. A strong argument can be made for continuing to do these things even when the menace of this disease has ended.
It is also important to understand the role of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a last line of defense against coronavirus. The effectiveness of face masks is limited due to air leakage around the sides but off-the-shelf improvements are available to make them work better. When a job requires respiratory protection as defined by OSHA, however, face masks will not do; a documented respiratory protection program is mandatory. The good news is however that most jobs will not require this level of protection.
Hayes, Rob. 2020. "Los Angeles Apparel factory shut down after more than 300 workers contract COVID-19"
Areas Covered in the Webinar:
- The Need for Action
- COVID-19 is making a comeback, primarily because people are making the same mistakes that were made in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic. This menaces workers, customers, and also continuity of operations.
- The HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act requires OSHA to issue a standard for workplace protection against COVID-19. While this legislation has not passed the Senate, similar legislation might have the same requirement, or OSHA may issue a standard on its own. This should be welcome because OSHA is probably the best source of occupational health and safety (OH&S) in the country if not the world. This does not mean, however, that anybody needs to wait for a standard or regulation because OSHA's "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19" already tells us what to expect and also what we can do now.
- "Wait for a vaccine" is not an option because none is likely to be available before early next year.
Eliminate the hazard. It is physically impossible for COVID-19 to travel across an Internet connection or telephone line which makes telecommuting, distance education, and remote conferencing 100 percent effective against it..
- "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19" asks, as but one example, "Where, how, and to what sources of SARS-CoV-2 might workers be exposed?"
- Create a risk register of potential contagion sources, and involve workers and other stakeholders in this activity. Employees are often in the best position to identify overlooked risks, and their involvement is also consistent with ISO 45001's requirement for workforce participation.
- We need to deal with exactly two principal risk sources; contagion from a cough or sneeze, and contagion from contaminated surfaces. The former is because any countermeasure or control that will stop a cough or sneeze will stop contagion from ordinary conversation or respiration, but not necessarily the other way around.
- OSHA categorizes jobs by risk level. The good news is that most on-site jobs outside of health care and emergency response are Medium risk jobs (as defined by OSHA) which are unlikely to require a formal respiratory protection program.
- Hierarchy of controls, from most to least effective: (1) eliminate the hazard, (2) substitute less hazardous conditions, (3) engineering controls, (4) administrative controls, and (5) personal protective equipment (PPE).
Substitute less hazardous conditions, e.g. with drive-up banking and curbside grocery pickup.
Engineering controls do not rely on vigilance or compliance.
- Remote operations, where feasible, offer substantial reductions in employment costs (in the form of office and similar facilities) and also after-tax benefits to workers due to elimination of commuting and similar costs. This is a strong argument for continuing to use this technology regardless of whether coronavirus remains a threat in 2021 and later.
Administrative controls rely on vigilance and compliance, i.e. people must pay attention to them.
- Distance (between respiratory tracts) is our friend, and it can be added without the need for more floor space. Partitions, for example, can increase distance between restaurant tables without the need to reduce capacity.
- Air handling can reduce the concentration of contagious aerosols, and ultraviolet air disinfection has been used for decades.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Staggered shifts and meal breaks reduce the number of people present at any given time.
- Attendance policies must NOT encourage people who might have the disease to come to work.
- If the job defines respiratory protection, then a respiratory protection program is mandatory along with appropriate equipment such as N95 respirators. The good news is that most jobs are unlikely to require this.
- Beware of counterfeit PPE. Unscrupulous sellers are taking advantage of the pandemic to sell substandard and counterfeit equipment, but precautions can be taken against this (e.g. by consulting NIOSH's list of approved manufacturers and models).
- Face masks offer varying degrees of protection (depending on the material) but air leakage around the sides reduces their effectiveness. Three improvements are available: (1) masks that tie behind the head like the Durand mask of 1918, as opposed to earloop versions, (2) tighteners that pull earloops behind the head, and (3) mask sealers or mask braces that press the mask tight around the nose and mouth to reduce leakage enormously (see FixTheMask for good information
- Information suggests that eye protection can reduce individual risk about three-fold by suppressing eye contact with contagious aerosols.
Disclaimer: no part of this presentation constitutes formal engineering or occupational health and safety advice. Attendees are encouraged to use the publicly available OSHA document and other authoritative references for this purpose.
Who Will Benefit:
- All people with responsibility for reopening businesses in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as people with responsibility for occupational health and safety (OH&S) compliance along with building layouts and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)
- From All manufacturing companies, also service including restaurants and entertainment.
Principal Consultant, Levinson Productivity Systems
William A. Levinson, P.E., is the principal of Levinson Productivity Systems, P.C. He is an ASQ Fellow, Certified Quality Engineer, Quality Auditor, Quality Manager, Reliability Engineer, and Six Sigma Black Belt. He is also the author of several books on quality, productivity, and management.