As the coronavirus (COVID-19) stay-at-home orders are lifted around the world, there will be lots of people feeling anxious about going back to work. The COVID-19 lockdown has been frustrating, and, for many people, the restrictions have been financially crippling. Even so, people felt safer at home as they watched the crisis unfold on TV. Now, though, employers will be asking workers to return to offices, stores, and factories. Employers are required to protect their employees during the coronavirus pandemic. Still, our safety depends in no small degree on our own actions and the actions of our coworkers.
Over the past several weeks, Health Canada authorized the use of a number of antigen-based tests to detect specific proteins on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. They’re often called rapid tests, as they often provide results in less than half an hour. Repeated rapid testing of asymptomatic workers in work areas enables employers and employees to get involved, take ownership and be a part of a movement to slow down the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace. It should be noted, however, that the current Health Canada authorizations require oversight of the testing procedure by a trained health care provider to effectively administer the test.
So, what else can employers and employees do to ensure that everyone stays safe when they return to work after the coronavirus lockdown?
Here are the ten ways you can protect yourself and your coworkers from COVID-19:
- Wash Your Hands Frequently
- Carry Hand Sanitizer with You
- Maintain Social Distancing
- Wear a Face Mask
- Keep Your Hands Away from Your Face
- Avoid Sharing Equipment
- Cancel In-person Meetings
- Avoid Social Gatherings
- Keep Open Communication with Your Employer
- Advocate for Daily Prevention Practices
Wash Your Hands Frequently
The importance of washing our hands frequently has been drummed into us over the past few months. When people go back to work, this simple coronavirus safety precaution will be even more critical. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds every time you enter the workplace from outside, after every use of shared equipment, and after touching your face or blowing your nose. Plus, of course, you should continue to wash your hands as you usually would, including before and after eating and following a visit to the bathroom.
Carry Hand Sanitizer with You
Washing your hands with soap and warm water offers the best protection against COVID-19. But, when you cannot get to the bathroom, alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% of alcohol is the next best option. Carry the hand sanitizer with you when you go to work so that you can clean your hands when you are out and when you may have touched a surface that was infected.
Maintain Social Distancing during COVID-19 at work
You will need to try two meters apart from your coworkers whenever you can. Social distancing is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Your employer should have reorganized your workspace so that social distancing is possible. In some situations, though, keeping your distance from other people may be difficult. All employees will need to develop a new type of workplace etiquette that puts people’s safety first. For example, not entering a narrow corridor when someone is walking the other way and not entering an already crowded room.
Wear a Face Mask
The rules about wearing a face mask in public may vary from region to region, but most people agree that wearing a face covering is a sensible precaution to take. The degree of protection that a face mask gives the wearer is debatable, but covering your face will help prevent you from spreading the virus if you have it. When you go back to work, you must bear in mind that you can carry COVID-19 and experience no signs or symptoms.
Keep Your Hands Away from Your Face
Even if you do follow the social distancing and hand hygiene rules, you may pick up the virus on your hands. If you then touch your face between hand washes, you could contract the virus. Don’t let the wearing of a face mask and other precautions make you think you are invulnerable to COVID-19. Keep your hands away from your face and remind coworkers to do the same if they forget.
Avoid Sharing Equipment
The days of “can I borrow your stapler” are gone. While there is still coronavirus present within the population, everyone is going to have to stick to using personal equipment at work. The use of other people’s phones, desks, and computers should also be avoided. And, borrowing a pen will be a thing of the past too. When you need to use equipment that must be shared, like a copier, you should wipe over the surfaces that you will touch with a sanitizing wipe before and after use.
Cancel In-person Meetings
Meetings are often a waste of time anyway. But, there is an opportunity to rid ourselves of these tedious and unnecessary gatherings now! Say no to meetings whenever possible and send emails instead or pick up the phone. If you need to have a meeting with someone outside of your workplace, set up a video conference session instead. It is going to feel weird emailing a coworker who works in the office next door, but the fewer contact people have, the lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the workplace.
Avoid Social Gatherings during COVID-19 at work
Sharing the latest office gossip around the water cooler is another part of office life that will have to be consigned to history. Situations, when workers take their meal breaks at the same time, should also be avoided. Even the smokers who used to huddle together outside in the rain will have to stand on their own. It is going to be hard for some people to break some of these long-standing workplace traditions. However, if people do not follow social distancing recommendations, there may be an increased risk of another coronavirus outbreak when people go back to work.
Keep Communication Open with Your Employer
Wherever you work, there will be national and regional coronavirus safety regulations and guidelines that your employer must follow. However, businesses are facing enormous challenges right now. So, it is going to be crucial for employees and employers to work together to keep workplace environments safe. If you feel unsafe or see workplace practices that you believe might put you and others at risk, you should raise your concerns with your supervisor. Coronavirus safety at work is going to be a joint effort, and getting it right will benefit workers and businesses alike.
Advocate for Daily Prevention Practices
Even though a coronavirus vaccine has been developed, everyone will still have to learn to live with the threat of COVID-19. From shaking hands to attending office parties, there will be many workplace customs and habits that will have to change. It will take time for everyone to change their practices, and people will slip up when it comes to COVID-19 safety and prevention. When coworkers do forget to practice social distancing or hand hygiene, a polite reminder will go a long way. You do not want to become known as the office coronavirus prevention officer! Even so, if everyone works together, it will make the workplace a much safer place to be in.
The crucial point to take away is that we all must work together to stop the spread of the coronavirus. When you get back to work, follow the rules you have been adhering to while at home during the lockdown. If everyone stays alert to the danger of COVID-19 and follows the safety guidelines and regulations, it might feel different in the workplace, but definitely much safer.