COVID-19, Personnel Safety

How to Bring Office Workers Back Safely

With offices across the country slowly reopening, workers are returning to a changed landscape with new procedures and office norms. This means that companies must review their emergency preparedness plans and adapt them to the realities of the pandemic.

Workplace masks and distancing

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In today’s world, emergency preparedness plans must accommodate fluctuating or rotating staff, social distancing guidelines, and new office layouts. While it’s important to be prepared for all emergencies, the most critical threat to your workers’ safety might not be from a workplace injury but rather from an invisible disease that has the potential to sicken your staff and customers. All plans must account for this new reality.

With the stress people have been under from COVID, it’s critical that business owners also take the mental health of both their employees and their customers into consideration and factor in violence prevention plans into all of their reopening strategies.

Before Employees Return to Work

Before you reopen your offices to employees, it’s important to reevaluate your office layout. Consider separating critical team members across multiple floors or in different sections of an office building to ensure that if one employee falls ill and spreads the disease, you’re able to retain enough of your workforce to keep your business moving. Given that many offices have been closed for months, it’s important to inspect all safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, carbon monoxide detectors, and other systems, to ensure it is in working order.

Health officials are warning of an uptick in mental health challenges as we reenter social life. Due to the rise of significant trauma, stress, substance abuse, and financial challenges and/or layoffs due to COVID-19, more violent incidents are expected to occur in workplaces and businesses across the country. Before you open, ensure your Human Resources (HR) teams communicate any and all available mental health resources to your staff. Advise HR personnel to be on the lookout for employees who are exhibiting concerning behaviors that may lead to violence.

In this vein, it’s important that office security have an updated list of who is and isn’t allowed on the premises. We advise that security or health officials be stationed at all entry points to conduct temperature checks for every employee who enters the premises. If that’s not possible, consider creating a policy to ensure each employee takes his or her temperature at home before entering the office.

Despite the need for offices to enforce social distancing and limit who can access certain areas, codes still require that all entry and exit points remain clear and well-marked in case an emergency evacuation is necessary. For businesses that have digitized plans that have been shared with their local law enforcement agencies, remember to update these plans with new office layouts to ensure that first responders have up-to-date information at their fingertips.

As Workers Return

Drills are still vital in ensuring your place of business is prepared in case of emergency, especially as workers have been home for months and are out of practice. That being said, many drills require employees to gather in a designated area, which can violate social distancing guidelines. Instead, try conducting multiple drills with a smaller number of staff, and when possible, move as many aspects of the drill to outdoor areas. Employers with fluctuating or rotating staff need to keep a schedule of when certain employees are in the office to ensure every employee goes through the proper drills. Most importantly, should the need for an emergency evacuation arise, it’s critical that you have an accurate employee head count.

With businesses and offices reopening across the country, employees and customers alike are fearful of going back to work. However, by updating your emergency preparedness plans and communicating them to your team, you can alleviate anxiety and confusion. Most importantly, while reopening can have numerous moving parts, don’t wait to rethink your emergency preparedness plans. By doing the work now, you can help save lives and ensure business continuity should an incident arise.

JP GuilbaultJP Guilbault is the CEO of Navigate360. Navigate360 confronts the challenges communities face by creating safe environments where they can thrive and focus on their true mission. Through technology, education, and services, Navigate360 offers solutions spanning the full spectrum of safety, from prevention and preparation to response and recovery. Navigate360 is defining a modern approach to safety using rapid innovation and unparalleled expertise to provide the solutions necessary to build a safer tomorrow.

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