As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our lives, employers need to consider the risk to their employees, vendors, and visitors. While the threat of COVID-19 cannot be completely eliminated, identification of practical measures and proper interventions can help to mitigate risk in the workplace. Representation from all areas in the workforce should collaborate on these efforts together, including the employer, trade unions, and employees who are familiar with the day-to-day workflow. Third party agencies and consultants may also be of key importance.
Vigilance Even With a Vaccine
For individuals and businesses alike, it can be a challenge to keep up with the latest safety guidelines. Updates have frequently been published throughout the past year in regard to health recommendations designed to aid in the prevention of COVID-19. One of the biggest measures being taken as of late is the vaccine rollout currently in progress across the United States. Tools like this vaccine tracker from Bloomberg.com even provide real-time updates of our country’s progress. This is all encouraging news, but it remains vitally important that individuals and organizations do not let their guard down – especially as new variants of the disease continue to be identified. The health recommendations that have become standard, such as social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing hands and workspaces, still remain essential as researchers continue to learn more about the level of protection the COVID-19 vaccines provide.
Input from OSHA
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has several medical surveillance standards in place that are required when an employer knows of a workplace hazard. Important steps to having a robust surveillance program include hazard assessment, risk communication to employees, availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), and potential physical exam specific to the surveillance program that is being addressed.
When it comes to workplace hazards as defined by OSHA, COVID-19 is no different; businesses must do what is needed to protect all persons on site. Businesses should conduct a general hazard identification and assessment that examines each job or task and relate this directly to potential transmission of COVID-19. This hazard assessment may include details such as potential for interaction between coworkers, cleaning of facilities, and other key issues related to risk of potential transmission or examination of the mitigation strategies that have been put forth. Businesses should also develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan, prepare to implement basic infection prevention measures, introduce policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation if warranted, implement workplace flexibilities in regards to staffing and attendance, and consider workplace controls (OSHA, Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, 2020).
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has established a hierarchy of controls for infectious disease that includes elimination, engineering and administrative controls, and use of PPE (CDC, Hierarchy of Controls, 2015). Each of these specific areas should be fully addressed and may include items such as daily health screenings for persons entering a business, frequent hand washing and cleaning, working from home when possible, complying with social/physical distancing rules, suspension of activities if possible or engineering controls with partitions, etc., identification of persons at high-risk for complications and/or death due to COVID-19, and reviewing this policy on an ongoing basis.
Ongoing Education is Key
Many groups have provided expert guidance regarding safely expanding the reopening of businesses as our understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. You may find additional guidance through OSHA, CDC, and the National Safety Council (NSC). Based on these instructions, many businesses will need to consider employing a medical team or working with a third party to accomplish their goals in the safest way possible. Managing risk and reducing exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace must remain the highest priority to protect health and safety even as vaccination efforts ramp up. Recommended prevention strategies are known to be effective and should not be relaxed until the vaccine is widely available and administered, and community transmission levels and vaccine efficacy can be confirmed.
For more information on how Medix is staffing COVID-19 vaccination efforts or to start hiring for your vaccination team, please visit medixteam.com/covid-19-vaccine.
Dr. Scarlet Spain, Medix Medix’s Occupational Health Consultant, answers frequently asked questions about how the COVID-19 vaccines work, U.S. distribution and administration plans and her own experience receiving the vaccine in this video: https://www.medixteam.com/covid-19-vaccinations-qa-with-dr-scarlet-spain/
CDC (2015). Hierarchy of Engineering Controls, 2015. Found at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/hierarchy/default.html
OSHA (2020). Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. Found at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf)
Bloomberg (2021). Covid-19 Tracker. Found at https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/
CDC (2021.) About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19. Found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html