COVID-19 has significantly altered our personal and professional lives. If you own a small business, you’ve definitely felt the strain. Instead of just focusing on providing products or services, you now have to fold in strategies for keeping employees and customers safe. It’s challenging, especially when things are changing daily. Fortunately, there are resources available to help keep your employees and customers safe so your business can still thrive despite COVID-19’s existence.
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The CDC has created a helpful guide for workplaces and businesses and a team of Cleveland Clinic experts, including infectious disease, occupational health, nursing, and operations team members, developed a series of free, industry-specific guides, tools and webinars to help employers keep workers and those they serve protected from COVID-19. With the help of these resources and James Merlino, MD, Chief Clinical Transformation Officer, we’ll cover some effective strategies that can help make things less stressful on the job.
Tips for cleaning and disinfecting the workplace
Disinfecting high-touch surfaces and frequently used spaces is instrumental in slowing the spread of COVID-19 as well as other viruses and germs. When it comes to cleaning the workplace, you’ll want to develop a plan that’s easy for everyone to understand and follow. To make sure things go smoothly, utilize visual aids like charts, checklists or posters. You’ll also want to keep the right cleaning supplies on-hand.
The approach to cleaning can be broken down into three parts.
- Plan – During this step, determine what needs to be cleaned. Keep in mind that not every area requires the same amount of attention. For example, in spaces left unoccupied for seven or more days, only routine cleaning is needed. High-touch surfaces (sinks, doorknobs, elevator buttons, etc.) should be disinfected regularly. You’ll also need to factor in the resources and equipment needed. Consider the size and availability of your current environmental services or janitorial workforce, the type and availability of cleaning products and the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for cleaning your business.
- Implement – Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before you disinfect them. Also, make sure the appropriate cleaning or disinfecting products are being used. EPA-approved disinfectants can help safeguard against COVID-19. Read the labels to make sure the products of interest will meet your organizational needs. Once you have what you need, follow the directions on the label and pay attention to all safety information and application instructions. And when cleaning, don’t forget to clean or replace air filters regularly per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Maintain – Stay on top of routine cleaning and disinfection and don’t be afraid to adjust or revise your plan based upon disinfectant and PPE availability. Make sure that frequently touched surfaces are disinfected daily. And maintain safe practices to build in additional layers of protection to keep everyone safe. These practices include frequent hand washing, wearing masks, having employees stay home if they are sick and social distancing.
Tips for retail spaces
If you own a store, your cleaning routine is going to look a little different since you most likely have more foot traffic. Here are some things you can do to keep employees and customers safe.
- Clean and disinfect high-touch areas frequently (doorknobs, push bars and door handles, light switches, carts and baskets, touchscreens, keyboards and credit card machines).
- Deep clean weekly using EPA-approved disinfectants that meet CDC requirements for use and effectiveness against viruses, bacteria, and airborne and bloodborne pathogens.
- Keep sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer in high-traffic spaces (e.g., public and employee entrances, restrooms and common areas).
- Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol for cashiers and other employees who cannot leave their workstations to frequently clean their hands.
How to handle physical distancing in your place of business
COVID-19 has changed how we navigate public spaces. Workplaces are no exception. If you’re still trying to adjust, keep these tips in mind
- Limit the number of people in your establishment at one time. This may mean changing your policies to allow flexible worksites (e.g., work-from-home) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts).
- Increase physical space between employees at the worksite (add extra space between workspaces to ensure 6 feet of distance between workers, encourage employees to avoid elevators and reduce the number of riders, create one-way traffic flow through aisles and hallways, etc.).
- Have meetings by phone or video when possible. If you have to meet in person, make sure there is plenty of space between each employee, all employees are wearing masks, and the meeting space is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
- Cancel non-essential trips and events.
- Stagger break times so employees aren’t in the same area at once.
Physical distancing for retail spaces
- Make sure there are markers indicating six feet of space between employees and customers or install barriers if it’s hard to maintain physical distance at all times.
- In the check-out area, use every other cash register and/or put markers on the floor to remind customers to leave 6 feet of space between themselves and others.
- Keep customers from closely gathering in customer service lanes, cash register lanes, or other tight spaces.
- Make sure employees and customers wear masks that cover the face and nose at all times.
- Don’t allow people to hang out in areas where there’s excessive air movement (e.g., close to doors and drafts).
Additional ways to keep your retail space safe
While it might seem like common sense, this is worth repeating — tell customers to not to enter your store if they have symptoms of COVID-19. Also, to strongly reinforce physical distancing, use signage throughout the store to prompt and reinforce space guidelines.
To keep your employees on-board, remind them of your commitment to keeping everyone safe by placing signs near the entrance, check-out area, on the sales floor and in break rooms. These signs should also include friendly reminders to wash hands frequently, wear masks, physical distance and use proper cough etiquette.
What should you do if an employee is infected with COVID-19?
With cases on the rise, it’s inevitable — some of your employees are going to be exposed to the coronavirus or even test positive for it. To keep everyone safe, be sure to have the management team and workers monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- Muscle or body aches.
- Congestion or runny nose.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- New loss of taste or smell.
- Sore throat.
Remember that the symptoms aren’t always severe. With a majority of cases (around 80%) patients experienced mild symptoms.
How to handle a sick employee at work?
Some people have a tendency to still show up at work when they’re sick. In the event that a team member does come to work with symptoms of COVID-19 or starts to get sick at work, you or your management team will need to act quickly.
Start by separating the employee from other employees and customers. Then, advise them to go home and contact their healthcare provider for next steps (testing, home care protocol, etc.). Once they’ve left, block off all areas that were used by the sick employee until they can be thoroughly cleaned. When it comes to cleaning and disinfecting these areas, refer to the CDC’s guidelines for cleaning when someone is showing symptoms of COVID-19.
What you can do if employees, visitors or customers were exposed to someone with COVID-19
If workers have been exposed, but no one is showing any symptoms, here’s what you or your management team can do.
- Follow local health department guidelines for required quarantine practices.
- Screen employees for temperature and symptoms when they arrive at work each day.
- Perform regular self-monitoring as outlined by your occupational health program.
- If not already required, make sure employees who were exposed wear face masks at work for 14 days from the date of the exposure.
- Maintain physical distance guidelines of at least 6 feet from others in the workplace.
- Disinfect and clean all work areas thoroughly and frequently.
While this has all become the new normal, it’s important for management teams to be flexible, vigilant, empathetic to the needs of employees and capable of communicating workplace changes and new policies clearly and effectively. This can all help ensure that things go smoothly as you work to protect your team, your customers and yourself.