In the absence of a vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend physical distancing as the most effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But what does physical distancing look like in a coronavirus-era workplace?
Organizations should weigh how to balance the implementation of physical distancing of at least six feet between workers with the maintenance of day-to-day operations. The following guidelines provide some practical tips to consider when implementing and maintaining physical distancing that can be tailored to your organization’s work environment.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of considerations. Each organization must assess a variety of factors and considerations, many of which are constantly changing, that are specific to their businesses. Local conditions, including colleague sentiment, market needs, regulatory requirements, and cultural practices in a geography, are continuously evolving. State health department websites are a good starting place to determine state and local restrictions.
Companies also should regularly confer with legal counsel and medical professionals to routinely monitor evolving directives and guidance from government and health authorities.
- Transportation: Remind colleagues to be careful and vigilant while using mass transit. Consider implementing commuting guidelines specific to a location.
- Hands-free: If possible, consider introducing automation/voice recognition to avoid the need to touch light switches or similar fixtures. Where automation is not practical, using disposable gloves or only elbows to touch light switches or elevator buttons may be an alternative. Consider placing hand sanitizer dispensers in the vicinity, and encourage staff to use sanitizer or wash hands after contact with switches and buttons — and regularly sanitize these surfaces.
- Doors: Where doors can be kept open without compromising security or privacy, continue this practice to limit employee contact with handles.
- Elevators: Consider establishing elevator capacity guidelines, such as a maximum of four passengers, based on the size and layout of the elevators.
- Wait line prevention: Where employees stand in lines (for example, at time clocks), seek alternatives that do not require employees to congregate. For example, for the foreseeable 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.
- Workstation redesign: Consider redesigning workstations to reduce/avoid employee contact. In a production environment, consider relocating equipment and installing clear barriers between workers if they cannot be located six feet apart. If this is not practical, consider providing additional personal protective equipment, such as N95 respirators or surgical masks and gloves, and training employees to safely use PPE. Additional deep cleaning may also be required.
Follow federal, state, and local government requirements regarding the use of face masks or PPE in the workplace. When implementing your organization’s policies, consider whether face masks and/or other PPE are readily available. Some organizations, for instance, might opt to purchase a different kind of face covering if a shortage of N95 masks would deprive health care workers of access to that form of PPE.
- Meetings: Consider using video conferencing as the preferred method of meeting. Unless an exception is otherwise granted by management to do so, meetings can be limited to a defined number of employees. At all times, consider how to practice physical distancing. For instance, hold team huddles or meetings outdoors or in open spaces where one person can be seated per table or otherwise spread out. Also consider removing chairs to reduce the potential for a breakdown in physical distancing.
- Public surfaces: When opening doors or touching other public surfaces, you may wish to instruct employees to use an elbow, a paper towel, tissue, or disposable glove and to avoid touching shared equipment (such as printers, elevator buttons, or restroom doors). Hands should be sanitized after disposing of paper towels or tissues, and public surfaces should be sanitized regularly.
- Breaks: If practical, suggest that employees bring their lunch or implement grab-and-go cafeteria services. Request that employees eat at their workstations or while 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 for visiting neighboring businesses, including coffee shops and restaurants.
- Signage: You may choose to develop and place signage in shared workspaces reminding employees of physical distancing and handwashing expectations.