Returning to Work with Protective Equipment & Barriers

Shawnee Love   •   May 14, 2020

Building on our earlier blogs with respect to getting set to reopen, this blog is going to focus on the personal protective equipment and practices and barriers which are needed to further enhance safety in the workplace.

  1. Sanitizer & handwashing stations: Employers will want to have adequate soap and places to wash hands as well as provide sanitizer at the entrance and exits as well as strategically placed throughout the space. How much is enough depends on the number of people and the set up of your office. We can discuss specifics if you have questions about your office layout or people.
  2. Gloves: Gloves should be worn when working with chemicals (such as when cleaning or disinfecting) or providing first aid, and otherwise are not considered necessary. They can be used as an additional protective measure when using common areas but are not a substitute for proper handwashing!
  3. Masks: There is a lot of discussion around masks in the workplace. Using a non-medical mask (providing it is worn properly) may prevent an infectious person from spreading his or her germs to others. Reliable information on this practice can be found here. However, infectious people shouldn’t be out and about let alone at work (see our next blog for policies employers need to have in place). Thus, I am not convinced non-medical masks are all that useful or reassuring in most workplaces. Given the shortages of medical grade masks and the fact that our healthcare workers desperately need them to do their good work, I am not encouraging medical grade masks in workplaces except for those providing healthcare, dental care, or other close personal care services.
  4. Plexiglass & plastic barriers: I have seen people hanging plastic from the ceiling to be a barrier between customers and customer service folks or even an additional barrier between colleagues who sit 6 feet apart. It is a bit unconventional but there is evidence it can work as long as there are no holes.  It is more common to see plexiglass barriers (I wish I had bought stock) and it is a good practice at checkout tills and places where you drop off information. Providing they are safely installed, they offer protection and confidence which are invaluable when reopening.
  5. Boxes, trays, & envelopes: If you receive packages, documents, files, etc., providing trays, envelopes, etc. for people to put their items in such that the recipient won’t have to get too close nor touch the item being dropped off until the germs expire is helpful.
  6. Common items: The “nerdy” pocket protector may make a comeback with the push to using our own pens and office supplies. Purchase extras so your staff don’t have to share regularly used items like keyboards, pens, pencils, staplers, scissors, etc. Also, consider providing handiwipes and cleaning supplies to individuals so they can be wiping down/ disinfecting the tools they use (e.g., copier, file cabinet, remote control, speaker phone, till, etc.
  7. Unnecessary materials: Although I consider chocolate to be a necessity in my office (I keep it in the freezer now to ensure it lasts longer and hopefully kills germs), communal candy dishes and shared reading materials (e.g., magazines, books or newspapers) may need to be put away for now. Hint: Many periodicals, books and newspapers have a full suite of content online which can be accessed and easily shared. Sharing good content is a great reason to stay connected with your team members as well.

If you need a second pair of eyes on your covid restart plan to keep employees safe, we are here for you.