Across the country, millions of people are working from home and practicing social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. However, many individuals are still going to work every day to keep their communities operating.
Essential personnel — who work in critical sectors from health care and law enforcement to food service and grocery — are required to continue reporting for duty. Their frontline roles represent about 34% to 43% of the total U.S. workforce. Yet by leaving their homes and helping to maintain a semblance of normalcy for others, essential workers put themselves and their families at great risk.
Here are four ways that health and safety professionals can work with employers to protect essential workers during the pandemic.
1. Prescreen Employees Before Shifts
Ensure that employers measure each employee’s temperature before he or she starts work. Temperature checks are critical for detecting high fever — one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 — and should be performed before employees enter the facility. Anyone who is running a fever or exhibits symptoms of the virus must be sent home.
To limit exposure, it’s also a good idea to implement prescreening measures for guests who visit job sites. Do not permit anyone who is ill to come into contact with workers.
2. Practice Social Distancing
Social distancing — staying at least six feet apart from other individuals and avoiding large gatherings — is a key safety measure that reduces the chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Encourage employers to implement social distancing strategies, such as:
- Increasing physical space between employees and customers
- Implementing flexible meeting options
- Revising seating arrangements
- Delivering products through curbside pickup or delivery
- Allowing flexible work hours
- Limiting congregation of employees in break rooms and other areas
- Creating barriers with plexiglass, stainless steel or durable polycarbonate
3. Distribute Protective Gear
Many essential workers spend their time in close proximity with the public and their colleagues. For this reason, essential personnel are more likely to contract COVID-19. Moreover, about 12% of workers in essential industries do not have public or private medical insurance, leaving them — and their dependents — exposed to significant medical expenses if they become ill.
It’s vital for employers to maintain a supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, goggles and gloves, to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Protective gear should be selected based on employees’ specific job duties. Most face masks fall into one of three categories:
- N95 respirators: These particulate-filtering respirators fit close to the face and filter at least 95% of airborne particles.
- Three-ply masks: These medical-grade, loose-fitting and disposable face masks are commonly worn by health care professionals. They shield the nose and mouth from germs transmitted through secretions, sprays and large-particle droplets.
- Cloth face coverings: Made from a variety of fabrics and antimicrobial linens, these coverings may help lower the risk of contracting or transmitting the virus through speaking, coughing or sneezing. However, they offer a lot less protection than respirators or three-ply surgical masks. One study found that homemade face masks may be only half as effective as surgical masks and up to 50 times less effective than N95 respirators.
4. Clean and Disinfect Workspaces
Creating a safe work environment includes cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces. Encourage employers to provide disposable wipes and other cleaning materials so workers can disinfect commonly used surfaces including doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks and other shared equipment.
It’s unlikely that cleaning will be able to erase every trace of the virus from high-touch surfaces, but with proper PPE and social distancing guidelines in place, this simple step can make a difference in the spread of germs.
Essential workers are critical to preserving life, health and basic societal functions. When employers implement these safety guidelines, essential personnel can have peace of mind on the frontlines.
Author Bio: Pete Infelise is Marketing Manager at LabSource, a full-line distributor of laboratory and safety products specializing in gloves, disposable protective apparel and lab consumables. He has seven years of experience in the industry and focuses on digital strategy and analytics.