Read on for tips on minimizing the risk of transmission of the coronavirus in your workplace, and what to do if one of your employees was exposed to the coronavirus or has contracted COVID-19, from a law firm owner and Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorney.
How is COVID-19 Spread?
The latest science suggests that the coronavirus is transmitted person-to-person through aerosols, which are very small airborne droplets that issue from the mouth or nose. An infected person breathing out, clearing their throat, coughing, sneezing, or speaking will launch these particles into the air, where they remain for seconds, in the case of large droplets, or for minutes or even hours. in the case of the smallest droplets.
Up to 25 percent of infected people are asymptomatic, meaning neither they nor anyone around them can tell they are infectious with the coronavirus. This means that everyone should take reasonable precautions, even if they “know” they are not infected. The point is, asymptomatic infected people don’t know they are infectious.
COVID-19 can also be transmitted by touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the coronavirus, then touching the mouth, nose, or possibly the eyes.
Best Practices to Avoid Transmission
Wear a Mask, Practice Social-Distancing, and Wash Your Hands
Because one in four infected people do not know they have the coronavirus, everyone should wear masks when there is a chance of coming into contact with others. A mask protects the people around the mask wearer from the mask wearer’s aerosols. If everyone wears a mask, no one is launching aerosols, infected or not.
When and where possible, remain at least six feet from others. Six feet is believed to be the minimum safe distance from an infectious person. Since one can’t tell who is shedding the coronavirus and who isn’t, it is prudent to stay at least six feet away from everyone.
Washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and using hand sanitizer also hello lower the risk of infection.
What Workers Are Most At Risk for Contracting COVID-19?
Those workers whose job duties involve contact with infected people at a distance closer than six feet are considered a very high risk for infection. This category includes doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs, and any first responder required to perform aerosol-generating procedures on a known or suspected coronavirus carrier. It also includes medical laboratory technicians and mortuary workers.
Those not working directly with COVID-19 patients in healthcare, post mortem care, medical laboratories, and first responders such as police, firefighters, and EMTs are at high risk for infection, as are those workers who must come into close contact with coworkers, customers, or members of the general public who are asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus and never know it.
Those workers who live or work in an area of high population density where they cannot avoid close contact are considered medium-risk, again, because they cannot know they must avoid contact with an asymptomatic carrier. This includes workers living in urban areas or living in company-owned shared housing.
Examples of workers at the lowest risk of being infected with COVID-19 include:
â— Remote workers;
â— Office workers whose duties do not require close contact with coworkers, customers, or the public;
â— Manufacturing and industrial facility workers whose duties do not require close contact with coworkers, customers, or the public;
â— Healthcare workers providing only telemedicine services;
â— Long-distance truck drivers.
Best Procedures to Clean and Disinfect the Workplace
At a school, daycare center, office, or another facility that does not house people overnight, OSHA recommends opening outside doors and windows when possible to increase air circulation. Cleaning staff should clean and then disinfect all frequently touched surfaces.
At a facility that does house people overnight, common areas and high-touch items and areas should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
Beyond this, employers should work with their local and state health departments to ensure appropriate local protocols and guidelines, such as updated/additional guidance for cleaning and disinfection, are followed, including for identifying new potential cases of COVID-19.
Educating Your Employees
Cleaning, Disinfecting, and PPE
Employers should develop policies for worker protection and provide training to all cleaning staff on site before assigning cleaning and disinfecting tasks. Training should include when to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), what PPE is necessary, and how to wear and dispose of PPE properly.
Employers must ensure workers are trained in the use of cleaning and disinfecting chemicals and on the hazards of the particular cleaning and disinfecting chemicals used in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard.
Employers must comply with OSHA’s standards on Bloodborne Pathogens including proper disposal of regulated waste and PPE.
The Symptoms of COVID-19
Employers should educate all employees, including those performing cleaning, laundry, and trash pick-up activities, to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19, and provide instructions on what to do if they develop those symptoms.
Employees who believe they’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or contracted COVID-19 should immediately notify their supervisor and the local health department. Your local health department will provide guidance regarding quarantine.
What to Do if an Employee Reports Having Been Exposed To or Contracting COVID-19
First, tell that employee to stay home and quarantine for 14 days. Ask the employee when they think they were exposed, and what coworkers they have been in close contact with since then. Without identifying the potentially-contagious employee, notify all employees on the contact list that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus and that they must stay home and quarantine for 14 days.
How to Handle a COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Claim
It is likely that COVID-19 will be treated as an occupational disease, so report the incident to your insurer and the authorities according to state law and your workers’ compensation policy.
About the Author
Veronica Baxter is a legal assistant and blogger living and working in the great city of Philadelphia. She frequently works with Larry Pitt, a workers’ compensation lawyer in Philadelphia.