Employers should reopen only when they can do so safely, the National Safety Council (NSC) said in response to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for office workers returning to work during the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Business owners should reopen when they’re ready—not necessarily because they can,” the NSC said in a statement.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 currently is widespread in most U.S. communities and considered a workplace hazard.
CDC recommendations for reopening office buildings include insisting employees wear cloth masks throughout the workday; maintaining social distances of 6 feet, even in elevators; and positioning workstations 6 feet apart or installing plastic partitions.
The NSC suggested employers also prioritize employee testing and contact tracing to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 infections and further shutdowns. The NSC suggested employers take additional precautions to ensure the highest level of safety:
- Employers must be able to test employees, as well as others who spend time in the office, for COVID-19;
- Contact tracing among coworkers is key to preventing further spread of COVID-19 because workplaces may inadvertently provide places for virus transmission; and
- Office return-to-work strategies must include assistance and support for employees to address mental health, as COVID-19 will impact many in both clear and unseen ways now and in the future.
The group recently developed a series of “playbooks” and other resources under its Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER) initiative to help business owners understand how to prioritize safety as they prepare to return employees to work.
The NSC, headquartered in the Chicago-area suburb Itasca, Illinois, issued similar cautions when Illinois and Chicago released guidance for reopening businesses as they lifted quarantine and shelter-in-place directives.
“However, the state and city guidance is just that—guidance. It will not be enough for employers to protect worker safety and health,” the NSC said.
The group stressed that employers need to prioritize testing, contact tracing, and mental health.
“If employers aren’t sure they can bring employees back safely, they should consider whether it’s the right time to bring them back. We must ensure a sustainable and lasting economic recovery and keep workers both available and safe.”
To learn more about the SAFER task force, listen to our EHS on Tap podcast interview with NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin.
NSC Logo, AIHA Rebranding
The NSC also released a new logo—a white cross inside a green square with rounded corners—and a new tagline: “Save lives, from the workplace to anyplace.”
“Safety doesn’t stop in the face of a pandemic. NSC has been America’s leading nonprofit safety advocate for more than 100 years. In that time, we’ve navigated unprecedented safety challenges, from the Industrial Revolution to the Great Depression,” NSC President and CEO Lorraine Martin said in a statement announcing the new branding.
The American Industrial Hygiene Association announced its new name, AIHA, and a new tagline: “Healthier Workplaces. A Healthier World.” With the name change, AIHA will reposition itself as the professional organization for occupational health and safety science professionals rather than industrial hygienists.
“AIHA is now in a better position to serve its existing members and recruit and educate the next generation of occupational health and safety scientists,” CEO Lawrence Sloan said in a statement.
AIHA also announced an educational campaign to raise employer awareness of the value occupational health and safety scientists bring to a workplace. The educational initiative will reach out to employers in the chemical manufacturing, construction, and first responder industries.