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March 12, 2020

Risk Management: Protecting Employees from Coronavirus

Coronavirus 2019 text with a stethoscope.

As concerns about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) continue to rise, many employers are left wondering what they can do to protect their workforce. Here’s some insight into what coronavirus is, how it spreads and what steps to take if your team members have symptoms.

What Is Coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronavirus is a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Common signs of infection include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Breathing difficulties

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. For the elderly, pregnant, infants and those with weakened immune systems, coronavirus can be even more dangerous.

How Does Coronavirus Spread?

COVID-19 spreads between people through their respiratory secretions, especially when they cough or sneeze. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the spread of COVID-19 from person to person most likely occurs among those who are within approximately six feet of each other. It’s unclear at this time if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

For every dollar spent on the direct costs of an employee’s illness or injury, businesses will spend much more to cover the indirect and hidden costs. Learn how establishing a culture of safety at your organization can help protect your employees and your bottom line.

CDC Prevention Guidance

In order to help employers plan and respond to COVID-19, the CDC has issued interim guidance. The CDC prevention recommendations include:

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of a fever and any other symptoms of COVID-19 for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines.
  • Separate sick employees. Employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately. Remind employees that they should cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Emphasize hand hygiene. Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 to 95% alcohol or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning. Employers should routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs.

A system to communicate with employees in a way that is easily understood and readily accessible is necessary. Check out our Safety Culture Toolkit for communication best practices and much more.

Additional Best Practices

In addition to following the CDC’s interim guidance, employers should consider the following best practices to help prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Educate employees on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and the precautions that can be taken to minimize the risk of contracting the virus, without causing panic. This should include the preventive steps outlined in the CDC interim guidance described above.
  • Develop criteria for when team members with symptoms should not come to work and communicate it across the organization.
  • Create a process to notify a supervisor and/or human resource personnel if an associate suspects a family member was exposed.
  • Appoint a single individual or department within your organization as the point of contact for employee questions about COVID-19.
  • Review safety programs and emergency action plans to ensure they include infectious-disease protocols.
  • Implement travel guidelines and procedures for approving international travel based on CDC Alert Countries.

Include these best practices in a policy or plan specifically detailing your procedures and requirements to proactively manage coronavirus exposure.

Stay Informed

Despite the current low level of risk for the average American employee, it is important to understand that the COVID-19 situation evolves every day. Employers should closely monitor the CDC and WHO websites for the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19.

Staying up to date on coronavirus developments can help your business prepare an effective response plan. If you have any questions, please contact a member of our team.

COVID19-Checklist

COVID-19 Resources

Access all COVID-19 related articles to help your business respond to the pandemic.

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