10 actions to ensure a safer reopening, from NSC — plus guidance for specific building types

by Brianna Crandall — July 31, 2020 — Reopening businesses and returning employees to traditional work environments post-quarantine will be the most nuanced and complex actions American employers will undertake in the coming months. To help them prioritize safety during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit safety advocate the National Safety Council — based on recommendations from the SAFER task force — identified in recent weeks the 10 universal actions every employer must consider before reopening, and released a series of playbooks with in-depth recommendations for doing so safely.

The Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER) task force — a group of experts from nearly 100 companies of all sizes, leading safety organizations, nonprofits, government agencies and public health organizations — is said to be the first national task force focused on worker safety.

The 10 universal actions every employer must take are:

  • Phasing — Create a phased transition to return to work aligned with risk and exposure levels.
  • Sanitize — Before employees return, disinfect the workplace and make any physical alterations needed for physical distancing.
  • Screenings — Develop a health status screening process for all employees.
  • Hygiene — Create a plan to handle sick employees, and encourage safe behaviors for good hygiene and infection control.
  • Tracing — Follow proper contact tracing steps if workers get sick to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  • Mental Health — Commit to supporting the mental and emotional health of your workers by sharing support resources and policies.
  • Training — Train leaders and supervisors not only on the fundamentals of safety such as risk assessment and hazard recognition, but also on the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health and well-being, as employees will feel the effects of the pandemic long after it is over.
  • Engagement Plan — Notify employees in advance of the return to work, and consider categorizing workers into different groups based on job roles, bringing groups back one at a time.
  • Communication — Develop a communications plan to be open and transparent with workers on your return-to-work process.
  • Assessment — Outline the main factors your organization is using as guidance to provide a simplistic structure to the extremely complex return-to-work decision

Lorraine M. Martin, NSC president and CEO, stated:

Protecting our workers means coalescing around sets of safety principles and ensuring those principles guide our decisions. Employers are asking for help, and we’ve brought together leading safety experts to deliver in this time of need. We hope these universal actions, the detailed playbooks and the recommendations within them will help employers safely navigate reopening operations while prioritizing employees’ rights to safe work environments.

In May, NSC and the SAFER task force released a framework from which employers should develop reopening action plans. The framework breaks down considerations within six key areas:

  • Physical environments
  • Medical issues
  • Stress, emotional and mental Health
  • Employment and human resources
  • Communication needs
  • External considerations

From the framework, NSC researchers created playbooks with detailed recommendations for each of the six key areas, as well as guidance for four specific environments:

  • Office spaces
  • Closed industrial settings
  • Open industrial settings
  • Public spaces

For up-to-date information about the NSC response to COVID-19 and the task force’s activities, visit the Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER) webpage.

For comprehensive reopening guidance and resources geared specifically towards building and facilities managers, see also FMLink’s e-book, A Facilities Manager’s Guide to Reopening and Occupying Buildings Safely.