How Workplaces Can Protect Employees Against COVID-19 Variants

As we reach the middle of 2021, it seems that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is finally behind us. Due to the efforts put forth by businesses during the height of the pandemic, most employees were able to stay safe, and we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with new vaccines and lightened safety guidelines. Now, business is beginning to see a resurgence, but we are not out of the woods just yet.

While the main COVID-19 strain may be more stable in America, variants of the virus are still making their way around our nation. As a business, it is your responsibility to keep your workforce safe and put your staff in the best possible position to not contract any illnesses. We can help point you in the right direction with some of the threats we may still face today and a few potential solutions.

Fading But Not Gone

While it seems to be diminishing, it will be a while before the threats associated with COVID-19 will truly be a thing of the past. Currently, the CDC has information on many variants of the virus that are capable of increased transmission and some that may make current vaccines less effective. Needless to say, caution is still required. As a business, it is your responsibility to protect the health of your employees, whether that is from sickness, trip and fall, machinery malfunction, or anything in between.  

In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will often hold a company accountable if any of their workers contract COVID-19 or is put at risk of potentially getting the virus. As a business with a warehouse environment, where many workers are typically in closer quarters, it is important to remember that you have the right to enforce guidelines during working hours to protect the safety of your team. 

For example, if the risk of COVID-19 is possible in your workspace, employers can require employees to get vaccinated. Also, a business can decide whether or not the employees or customers need to wear a mask when entering the premises. Finally, it is a company’s prerogative to ask employees if they have symptoms or complete a temperature check as they arrive at work. If a member of management does see that an employee appears ill, it is probably a good idea to send them home until they feel better or are medically cleared.

Air Quality is Key

It is important to remember that as an airborne virus, COVID-19 and its variants are mostly spread by respiratory droplets and airborne particles that are exhaled by an infected person. This method of transmission makes it very easy for the virus to spread and that is why we wear our masks and remain socially distanced. To make matters worse, it is now being reported that if the air in a workplace is polluted or otherwise unclean, the chances of getting the virus rises drastically, which has led to an increased death rate.  

If your organization does not take the quality of your air seriously, and it is deemed that this issue led to a COVID-19 death, your business could be held responsible. It is a smart idea to have your facility regularly tested with an emphasis on evaluating the air quality. It is also important to be aware of the signs of poor air quality, which include high humidity as well as mold and mildew growth. Another red flag is if you start to see employees become ill or have specific symptoms like persistent coughing, headaches, and frequent nosebleeds. 

A warehouse is especially susceptible to the possibility of poor air quality. Potential risks in this environment can include exhaust fumes of delivery trucks, moisture leaks in the walls of your building, and raw materials and chemicals that are left open or unsecured, just to name a few. It is management’s responsibility to keep these dangers at bay. In general, you can improve air quality by using air filtration units or creating better ventilation in the roof. Also, make sure that forklifts and other machinery are not left idling for longer than absolutely necessary.

Industrial Hygiene

The best way to keep your employees safe from COVID-19 and possible variants is by creating a safe work environment with good industrial hygiene, which is the science of anticipating, recognizing, and fixing factors within the work environment that can cause harm to your workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic and its variants can be dangerous for those with underlying medical conditions so your workplace must be safe so an incident at work doesn’t lead to an employee contracting the virus. On top of that, good industrial hygiene will also result in healthier, happier, and more efficient employees.

Part of creating a safe environment is controlling or eliminating hazards that can be physical or chemical. All chemicals should be properly labeled and stored where they cannot be exposed to anyone without their knowledge. In addition to educating your staff on how to properly use chemicals, they should also be instructed on personal hygiene, including washing their hands after every use and wearing gloves and goggles when necessary. 

To fully comprehend all of the hazards in your particular workplace, it is a smart idea to complete a risk analysis. Carefully review all of the procedures and tasks that are done in your facility along with the equipment used to complete them and see if there are any vulnerabilities or safety issues that you haven’t considered before. If there are any biological, physical, or airborne dangers, have them corrected as soon as possible. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to die down, it will take continued vigilance to truly get us to the end of the road. Workplaces that prioritize employee safety will be a big part of our return to normalcy.

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