8 Steps Toward Covid-Proofing Your Workplace

Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D.

For most Americans, it’s time to get back to work. Layoffs have hit thirty million, causing economic hardship to families across the country. At the same time, new research highlights that for most working age people, going back to the job is low risk. “People under 65 years old have very small risk of COVID-19 deaths even in the hotbeds of the pandemic,” according to Stanford scientists John Ioannidis, Cathrine Axfors, and Despina Contopoulos-Ioannidis. Most victims are elderly or having serious underlying health conditions.

Here is a list of steps employers can take to reduce that risk even further. Federal agencies and the World Health Organization have also put out recommended steps for employers. But their guidelines could have been written fifty years ago. They stress social distancing, staggering hours, and spacing desks apart, instead of the technological innovations currently available to battle the virus.
That’s no surprise. Federal regulators are free to talk with university or government scientists anytime. But scientists who work for industry have to wait for “vendor day.” The result is that the federal bureaucracy is literally unaware of what industry has to offer. Contrary to the government’s lists, these Eight Steps feature technological breakthroughs.

1. Install hand sanitizer kiosks every few yards, at the entrance to every work area, and next to elevators, rest rooms, conference rooms and pantry entrances.

2. Encourage all employees to wipe down their keyboard, computer mouse, and desktop when they begin work daily. Supply them with canisters of disinfecting wipes, preferably containing bleach, at their desks. Be sure to clean the desk phone, especially the part of the receiver held near the mouth. Allow three to five minutes for disinfectants to kill pathogens. Encouraging employees to disinfect their work area is important, even if a cleaning service comes in regularly after hours. Cleaning services routinely overlook high-touch surfaces like keyboards.

3. Upgrade to antimicrobial surfaces wherever possible, including for doorknobs, keyboards, desktops, handrails, and other frequently touched items. Numerous studies show how viral traces deposited on one elevator button or doorknob can be spread by touch within hours, infecting many people. Copper naturally destroys viruses and bacteria. Several manufacturers produce molded polymer products impregnated with copper. Also consider antimicrobial coatings that can be painted on high-touch surfaces.

4. Install a continuous, nontoxic disinfection device in the HVAC system. It will operate 24/7 to deactivate viruses in the air and reduce bioburden on surfaces to near zero. These technologies are already in use in professional sports teams’ locker rooms, manufacturing facilities, and hospitals. The side benefit is a healthier workforce and lower absenteeism even if the Coronavirus doesn’t return.

5. Identify the areas where employees congregate, including copy machines and pantries. Keep a supply of hand sanitizers, disposable gloves, and disinfectant wipes nearby for all to use.

6. To reduce viral spread in bathrooms, be sure all toilets have lids. Research indicates that many pathogens become aerosolized when a toilet is flushed. Coronavirus is carried in feces, and new findings in Emerging Infectious Diseases suggest the virus is found in heavy concentrations in rest rooms.

7. All employees deserve to feel safe. Encourage them to wear masks and avoid handshaking. Even so, show special concern for employees over 65 and those who have serious health conditions, consider ways they can work remotely, or stagger their working hours. Research indicates that even in New York City, ground zero for the pandemic, 98% of those who died from the virus were over 65 or had underlying health issues. They need added protections, while most workers are at low risk.

8. Develop a policy in the event a member of your workforce is diagnosed with COVID-19. That might include notifying your workforce without naming the infected employee, and asking co-workers who were exposed to quarantine for 14 days or get tested.

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