Q: “I’m on my company’s re-opening team. In addition to all of the personnel challenges and considerations, we are focused on quickly making physical changes to the space before we allow employees back in. What things should we focus on first if we can’t focus on everything or do any sort of construction?”
May 12, 2020
A: Unless provided for in a state or local executive order, there is generally no set of standards all employers must follow for preparing a workplace for reopening during the pandemic. Employers have a general duty under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm, but are not bound by any specific requirements related to coronavirus. Rather, OSHA has provided general guidance on preparing workplaces for the virus, available here.
The focus should be on taking reasonable steps to prevent infection. What those reasonable steps are will depend on the particular business, workplace and needs. While a re-opening plan involves many different considerations, here is a good starting point for quick and affordable improvements.
- Reconfigure your space to spread out desks/work stations and put more employees in enclosed offices if possible.
- Consider using workspace dividers
- Common use glassware and cups should be removed
- Eliminate in-person meetings where possible, and if a meeting is required, reduce chairs in meeting rooms, so that rooms are set up for individuals to sit at least six feet apart.
- Utilize traffic control signage for hallways (one way)
- Close common areas (such as lounges, kitchens, breakrooms) or restrict to single-use, keeping in mind that spaces like wellness rooms may need to remain open to provide a space for employees to express breast milk or for religious accommodations
- Provide hand sanitizer throughout the workplace
- Ensure there are trash bins throughout the workplace so that tissues and other garbage can be quickly disposed of
- Require face coverings at all times, unless in a closed office.