By Brian McFadden, Contributor
Many workplaces are struggling with the dynamic circumstances of COVID-19 in their area. This can involve confusion about the illness itself, as well as the changing requirements for preventing or responding to an infection.
UNDERSTANDING THE SPREAD
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is mostly transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets, which are produced when a person sneezes, coughs or speaks. If a person has the virus, some of the viral particles will be included in their respiratory droplets; if those droplets reach another person’s mouth, nose or eyes, the virus can begin to infect that new victim.
Importantly, not all people with the virus will know that they are sick. A person can have an active infection and spread the virus for several days before they develop their first symptoms of COVID-19. As a result, these “pre-symptomatic” victims are a major source of new infections.
Even after symptoms appear, they may turn out to be mild. In these cases, victims may assume their discomfort has some other cause, such as seasonal allergies or not getting enough sleep. As a result, they may continue their normal activities and interactions, unknowingly spreading the virus to many other people—who may not be so lucky.
Since most victims don’t know they have the virus until they’ve already had a chance to spread it around, protective measures must be in place before there’s an obvious illness. Being proactive is the only viable solution.
The single, most effective step that we can take to reduce infection rates is to wear masks whenever we are in a public or shared space, especially at work. Even simple, inexpensive cloth masks have been shown to dramatically reduce transmissions of the virus—because they can block or slow down the respiratory droplets produced by the wearer.
But, masks are only one step in reducing the overall risk of infection. Paired with other approaches, they can be more effective. Often, those other approaches can provide additional benefits.
NAVIGATING THE NEW NORMAL
Where workplaces make changes to protect their employees and customers, clear visual communication becomes even more important. Masks can muffle voices; new traffic patterns can cause confusion; and requirements for safe distancing can be difficult to maintain. Visual signals can offer effective solutions and can even become key parts of a newer, safer and more efficient workspace.
For example, maintaining a safe distance between workers is a key step in limiting exposure and reducing the risk of infection. This often means rethinking the location of workstations, especially along conveyor systems. Rather than having workers side-by-side or face-to-face, stagger positions and space them apart. Then, mark the new working spaces with floor tape to clearly identify where workers should be. At the same time, this may provide an opportunity to organize the tools and supplies those workers might need, using elements of the popular “5S system” for organization and efficiency.
Many workplaces are providing hand sanitizer stations, often placed near building entrances, to encourage all workers and visitors to use them. Signs can highlight the location of these sanitizer stations and clearly state a company’s policy on their use. Adding further details, such as who to contact if a station runs dry, can help ensure that this protective step remains useful into the future.
Periodic cleaning has been always been a part of most workplaces’ routines, but this task attracted more attention when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Many workplaces increased the frequency of cleanings and added sanitizing steps for equipment and areas that were shared or frequently touched. Visual cues to remind workers of when the new cleaning steps should be taken—and where to find the appropriate supplies—can help streamline the process.
If your workplace has instituted new traffic controls as part of the effort to maintain safe distances between individuals, these controls must be integrated into existing efforts to be effective. Forklift traffic is still just as dangerous for pedestrians as it was before the pandemic. Signs to show directions of travel; warn of blind corners; or mark mandatory stopping points or speed limits can be an obvious help. Additional steps, such as outlining approved paths of travel in different colors for different traffic or processes, can help make these new traffic controls useful for a variety of needs.
Additional steps or requirements may be in place in your area. It’s critical that your workplace follows the guidance of experts and authorities to keep your community safe.
WHAT IF SOMEONE GETS SICK?
Despite our efforts, COVID-19 continues to be a threat. What happens if someone does get sick? How will they know, and what should be done in response?
The most common symptoms of an infection include fever (or chills), coughing or shortness of breath. Additional symptoms have included fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, a loss of smell or taste, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
Often, only a few of these symptoms will appear, and they may be mild or severe. However, many victims experience serious complications, such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. Other complications have included kidney failure, strokes and auto-immune problems, which can also be life-threatening or permanently debilitating.
If any person develops these symptoms, they should immediately remove themselves from public spaces or work areas. Then, they should contact a healthcare provider for advice. A person who develops COVID-19 should not return to work until any fever has been gone for three days (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and any other symptoms have improved or cleared up entirely.
Upon being notified that an employee has contracted COVID-19, the employer has certain obligations. First and most importantly, they should act to protect their other employees. Identify, clean and sanitize the victim’s workspace, in case it had been contaminated while they were still pre-symptomatic. Encourage workers who may have had close contact with the victim to be tested. Maintain clear communication.
Additionally, the employer should make a reasonable investigation to see if the transmission of the virus is likely to have occurred at work. Have several workers in an area all gotten sick, or did the worker’s duties include direct contact with the public? If a case of COVID-19 is determined to be work-related, it may need to be recorded as a workplace illness, using the same OSHA 300 form that is used for significant workplace injuries.
This investigation is not meant to show that anyone did anything wrong; instead, it’s meant to help identify what happened and help to prevent it from happening in the future. The goal is to protect everyone, making our communities safer. WMHS
About the Author:
Brian McFadden is a Compliance Specialist and writes for Graphic Products, makers of the DuraLabel line of industrial label and sign printers. For more information about customized visual communication, visit www.GraphicProducts.com or call 800-788-5572.