OSHA’s COVID Reopening Guidance: A Cheat sheet for Employers Managing a Distributed Workforce

August 14, 2020 - minute read

As more American businesses prepare to reopen, they first must develop a plan for keeping their workplace safe and COVID-free. This can be especially challenging for employers that manage a distributed workforce—i.e., those with workers spread over multiple jobsites, which often belong to the business’s customers.

To that end, we surveyed OSHA’s recovery guidelines, rounding up the most meaningful recommendations for employers striving to keep their decentralized workforce safe. We added a few of our own thoughts, too.

Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan

In order to reopen safely, you’ll need to implement processes for dealing with the potential emergence/resurgence of COVID. When you’re managing multiple worksites, that means collaborating closely with field managers to:

  • Monitor guidance from federal and local health agencies and determine how to apply it to each worksite.
  • Monitor infection rates in each locality where workers are located.
  • Develop site-specific plans for responding should infection rates climb.

Conduct Risk Assessments by Worker and Worksite

According to OSHA, it’s key to determine which workers and worksites have the greatest risk of exposure. OSHA also recommends considering individual risk factors, such as workers’ age and health.

OSHA’s Occup  identifies four risk exposure levels. Because High and Very High Risk jobs are identified as healthcare professionals working with COVID patients, most non-healthcare employers will rank their workers under these two categories:

  • Medium Risk – Jobs that require frequent, close contact (within 6 feet) with others who may be infected, such as retail and food service workers.
  • Lower Risk – Jobs that have minimal close contact with customers or coworkers.

Develop a Plan for Minimizing Workplace Hazards by Risk Level

Once you’ve identified your distributed workers’ risk, you can develop a plan for controlling the hazards. OSHA has developed the following COVID hierarchy of controls, listed from most to least effective:

  • Engineering Controls – Such as installing high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation, and mounting physical barriers like sneeze guards between workers and others. (If your employees work at customer-controlled worksites, this will require a collaborative effort.)
  • Administrative Controls – These include operational changes, such as staggering shifts and developing communication and training plans (more about these later).
  • Safe Work Practices – I.e., creating a more hygienic work environment by implementing handwashing rules and providing supplies such as no-touch trash cans and hand sanitizer.
  • Providing PPE – According to OSHA, the type of PPE you provide to workers should be tied to their level of risk. (For example, janitors working in a hospital unit that cares for COVID patients need a higher level of PPE than those cleaning an office.)

Chances are, you’ll choose to combine controls from several categories—which may vary from worksite to worksite.

Develop Rigorous Cleaning Practices

Many employers are choosing to have their worksites cleaned more frequently and thoroughly than pre-COVID. OSHA recommends identifying high-traffic areas and frequently-touched surfaces (such as door handles and time clocks) and targeting them accordingly.

For routine cleaning, OSHA recommends using ordinary commercial-grade cleaning products; for potentially contaminated surfaces, OSHA recommends using EPA-registered disinfectants with label claims to be effective against the COVID-19 virus.

Train Your Workers on COVID-19 Prevention

OSHA recommends training workers thoroughly on the signs, symptoms and risk factors of COVID, how exposure takes place, and how to prevent it. (In our experience, the most efficient way to train a distributed workforce is through online learning software).

Develop A COVID Communication Plan

Workers who feel safe are more likely to be present and productive. Make sure you have adequate communication vehicles in place, and keep workers up-to-date on all health and safety news and issues. In addition, make sure field managers are prepared to address questions concerning sick leave, pay, and all COVID-related issues.

Develop a Process for Identifying and Isolating Sick Workers

Whether you are testing or have directed workers to report when they’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important to have a response plan in place. That includes separating sick workers from others, notifying coworkers who may have been exposed, and identifying an isolated area for them to stay until they can leave the workplace.

Be Prepared for Surprises

OSHA warns that employers may find themselves dealing with a number of unexpected issues, such as increased absenteeism, delayed supply shipments, and changes to workday hours. For employers managing a distributed workforce, that means preparing field managers for whatever may come their way.

Your HR software should make it easier to implement your COVID reopening plan. Because EPAY’s HCM system is designed for the hourly, distributed workforce, it provides many powerful tools for employers managing scattered workers, like touchless time-collection solutions and a robust online learning management system (with access to OSHA and COVID safety courses.    

For more pandemic-related guidance, visit OSHA.gov or EPAY’s COVID-19 resource page. For more information about EPAY’s HR software for the hourly, distributed workforce, take our 2-minute video tour.

Filed Under: COVID-19