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RISK IN CONTEXT

COVID-19 Social Distancing and Contact Reduction in the Workplace

POSTED BY Talal Darras Wednesday, 05 August 2020

Social distancing measures continue to be widely viewed as the key way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the absence of a vaccine. However, what does social distancing look like in a coronavirus-era workplace?

Organizations should consider how they would implement physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres between workers and the one person per 4 square metre rule for premises. To meet this goal, the following guidelines provide practical tips to consider when implementing and maintaining physical distancing.

Your Action Plan

These recommendations are potential solutions to maintain physical distancing, where reasonable. Each action plan should be tailored to your organization’s work environment. For example, an action plan for an office building in an urban location may vary significantly from a factory in a rural community.

  • Transportation/Commute: Remind colleagues to be careful and vigilant while using public transport. Consider implementing commuting guidelines specific to a location. Encourage employees using public transport to use it during off-peak times, and implement flexible work practices. Remind colleagues that where social distancing is difficult or not possible (e.g. on public transport), facemasks are advisable to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Workstation Redesign: Consider redesigning workstations to reduce/avoid employee contact. In a production environment, consider relocating equipment and installing clear barriers (i.e. plexiglass) between workers if they cannot be located 1.5 metres apart. If this is not practical, consider providing additional PPE such as N95 respirators or surgical masks and gloves, including the associated training in the safe use of the PPE. Additional deep cleaning may also be required.
  • Staggered Shifts: Where employees need to work at a company site such as a factory/production facility or office, consider altering the work schedule to minimize the number of employees entering and working in a shared space at any given time. This may require the implementation of multiple shifts.
  • Remote Work: Working remotely is the most effective way to maintain physical distancing. Consider extending work from home/telecommuting wherever possible, and advise employees who are not comfortable returning to the office that they may continue to work remotely.
  • Split Teams: If reasonable, an organization can limit the initial return to the office only to those employees who are essential, or to a limited and specified percentage of the total workplace.
  • Breaks: Where practical, suggest that employees bring their lunch or implement “grab & go” canteen services. Request that employees eat at their workstations or otherwise physically separated from others. Limit access to common areas where food is available and consider placing sanitizing wipes near any vending machines. Consider staggering breaks, and enhance plans to sanitize common break areas between sittings. Establish guidelines when visiting neighboring businesses (e.g. restaurants).
  • Doors and Elevators: Where doors can be kept open without compromising security or privacy, continue this practice to limit employees from touching handles. Establish elevator capacity guidelines, e.g. no more than 4 persons per elevator (depending on size/layout of elevator).
  • Public Surfaces: When opening doors or touching other public surfaces, instruct employees to use an elbow, a paper towel, tissue, or disposable glove. Avoid touching shared equipment (such as printers, lift buttons, or restroom doors). Hands should be sanitized after disposing of a paper towel or tissue, and public surfaces should be sanitized regularly.
  • Wait Line Prevention: Where employees stand in lines (i.e., at time clocks), seek alternatives that avoid employees congregating. For example, for the near future, consider asking supervisors to record the presence of employees rather than using time clocks. If it is not possible to redesign the process, consider putting markers on the floor or wall to designate minimum physical separation distances.
  • Digital Communication: Rather than speaking face-to-face, employees should be encouraged where practical to use unshared work or personal telephones, online conferencing tools, e-mail, or instant messaging to communicate.
  • Non-Verbal Communication: Consider developing and explaining a system of hand gestures to convey information. For example, thumbs up for a good job or a wave instead of a handshake.
  • Meetings: Use video conferencing as the preferred method of meeting. Unless management grants an exception, physical meetings should be limited to a defined number of employees. At all times, use best efforts to practice physical distancing - hold team huddles or meetings outdoors or in open spaces where people can sit one person per table and/or spread out. Also, consider removing chairs to reduce the potential for a breakdown in physical distancing.
  • Deliveries: Establish a shipping/receiving drop point, to which access is restricted.
  • Drop Off/Pick Ups: When items or materials must be collected in person, prepare in advance of the collection so that they may be placed in a location where physical distancing will not break down when collected.
  • Signage: Develop and place signage in shared workspaces reminding employees of physical distancing and handwashing expectations, i.e., soap and warm water for at least 20-seconds or the use of hand sanitizer when handwashing is not possible.
  • Hands-Free: If possible, introduce automation/voice recognition to avoid the need to touch light switches or similar. Where automation is not practical, use disposable gloves or only elbows to touch light switches or lift buttons. Consider placing hand sanitizer dispensers in the vicinity, and encourage staff to use sanitizer or wash hands after contact with the switch/button. Regularly sanitize these surfaces.
  • Non-Employees: Establish visitor and contractor policies and communicate your requirements to visitors or contractors in advance of their arrival. Limit visits to essential services only. Where contractors or other visitors have to be admitted to a shared workspace, consider screening them prior to admittance.