The consensus is that there will be no return to “normal” during the pandemic until a safe, effective vaccine becomes widely available. The patchwork response to COVID-19 has resulted in rates of infection that vary by region. In some areas, businesses are reopening while in others, people who can are still working from home and many businesses remain closed.
Regardless of your location, and no matter what kind of workforce you manage, now is a good time to think about how you’ll reopen safely. It will require a plan to keep employees and customers safe, and it will take a contact tracing protocol. HR has stepped up to handle many unprecedented tasks over the past few months, and as an HR professional, you’ve got this too.
Creating an Infection Control Plan
The first step in creating a solid infection control plan is to study local, state, and federal guidelines to understand how COVID-19 spreads and what options employers have for creating a safer workplace. This CDC site is a good place to start — it has general information on controlling the spread in the workplace as well as industry-specific resources.
Basic safety measures like staying six feet apart, wearing face coverings, encouraging hand washing and disinfecting surfaces frequently are important. When employees return to work, it will be tempting to go back to previous routines like congregating in break rooms or other common areas unless those spaces are reconfigured.
It’s a good idea to remind employees to observe social distancing and to provide face coverings if necessary. Desks and tables may need to be moved further apart. You might also want to create or alter schedules for breaks and meals to minimize the number of people gathering at one time and remove some chairs from conference rooms to facilitate safer meetings.
Some businesses do temperature checks daily on employees and/or provide online health assessment forms to detect potential exposure to COVID-19. You can also enlist employees in the effort to create a safer workplace by providing forms they can use to share ideas and offer suggestions online.
Implementing a Workplace Contact Tracing Program
Contact tracing is another way to ensure a safer reopening. When done consistently, it’s a proven method to reduce disease transmission. One of the challenges of controlling COVID-19 is that it’s highly contagious — a person who is within six feet of an infected individual can catch the disease. Crowded events also pose a risk and make it harder to track exposure.
Online forms can streamline contact tracing and — crucially — protect employee privacy. You can set up a HIPAA-compliant form online (and distribute it via a website, email or social media channel) to collect the following data on employees diagnosed with COVID-19:
- Symptoms and the time symptoms were experienced
- Contact details for the patient
- Contact details of people with whom the infected person interacted
In many regions, local health departments, hospitals and other organizations are doing contract tracing, though experts say the public health response is falling short of what is needed to trace contacts for each new case in every region. Despite those challenges, a workplace contact tracing program can give you valuable insight into the spread of the virus at your business and help you prevent a new outbreak that might force a business closure.
HR Is Stepping Up
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past several months, it’s that HR professionals are resilient, creative and incredibly dedicated. They’ve found new ways of working and connecting with employees in unprecedented circumstances. And as businesses reopen, HR’s creativity will be required again to keep employees and customers safe.
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With an infection control plan and a company-wide contact tracing program, you can help your company reopen and operate safely until a vaccine arrives. Online forms can help you implement new measures and track your progress. HR is stepping up once again and providing the processes and data needed to successfully fight the pandemic at work.