COVID-19, a respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus, spreads between people who are in close contact with one another (about six feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land on common surfaces or in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
How can you protect your employees? Use these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help prevent workplace exposures to respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.
- Know the symptoms: Help employees recognize the most common symptoms of COVID-19 by educating them about the signs of illness; these include fever, cough, shortness of breath. The CDC offers free resources, such as videos, fact sheets and posters.
- Identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to your employees. Exposure risk may be elevated for some workers including healthcare, certain retail workers, and deathcare, laboratories, airline operations, solid waste and waste management. Consult the CDC for information and resources for these specific groups and healthcare facilities.
- Tell employees who are sick to stay home: If a symptomatic employee shows up for work, send them home immediately and assess the exposure.
- Revise your sick policy as needed: Ensure that your sick leave policy is flexible and consistent with guidance from public health authorities. The CDC advises not requiring a doctor’s note as healthcare providers may be too busy to offer timely documentation.
- Advise everyone to wash their hands frequently: Employees should wash their hands vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Promote preventive actions: Provide tissues and supply hand sanitizer. Employees should use a tissue to cover their cough or sneeze, throw that tissue away and wash their hands. Supply hand sanitizer to workers for use at job sites where they can’t wash their hands immediately. Inform employees to not touch their eyes, nose and/or mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid contact with people that are sick. Also, comply with social distancing orders, making sure your employees can work at a distance of at least 3-6 feet apart from each other or customers.
- Elevate cleaning and disinfection: Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, such as doorknobs, faucet handles, copy machines, and break room tabletops. Avoid shared equipment, including phones, keyboards, headsets, and clean common surfaces between shifts or employee usage. Train staff who clean workplaces and provide them with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Talk to your employees. It’s natural to feel anxiety during a time filled with uncertainty. Make sure you are being direct with employees rather than inducing fear. Listen to your employees’ concerns, help them manage their stress and be transparent about the efforts you’re taking to keep them safe.
- Monitor the Coronavirus: This is a rapidly-evolving situation. Follow the Centers for Disease Control, OSHA and the World Health Organization for COVID-19 updates and information for specific industries.
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