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As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, your business could face high absentee rates. For this reason, your business should have a defense plan to help slow the spread and reduce the workforce impact. One step in this process is to provide a clean environment for employees and visitors alike. During an infectious outbreak, ill persons, particularly those who have the virus but do not manifest symptoms, may compromise the office environment by entering and depositing the virus on surfaces and in the air, where it waits for susceptible persons to pick up. Many of the most common suggested preventive measures are inexpensive and easy to implement.

Employee & Visitor Screening

Consider implementing an employee and visitor screening program that identifies persons attempting to enter the office who are symptomatic. Thermal imaging cameras such as those in use at airports are not expensive, but may not be practical in certain office environments. Posters or digital signage at main entranceways can be an effective measure. The message could state, “STOP: persons with flu symptoms. If you have flu symptoms (fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches), please do not enter this facility as you may put others at risk.”

Communication & Prevention

Employers should remind employees to follow proper hand-washing and cough/sneeze etiquette. Placing public health signage in key building locations (e.g., main lobby areas, break rooms, meeting areas, restrooms, etc.) helps inform employees and visitors on the proper way to reduce the spread of the virus. Depending on the building, an employer may also want to deploy portable hygiene stations which include hand sanitizer, tissues, and trash receptacles. Additional consideration should be given to stockpiling tissues, soap, hand sanitizer, and disposable towels.

According to the CDC, they recommend those employees who have flu symptoms should stay home and not come to work until at least 24 hours after a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius or higher resolves (using an oral thermometer) without the use of fever-reducing medicines or other symptom-altering medicines. Employees should notify their supervisor, stay home if they are sick, and consult with their physician, as needed.

Employers should prepare to minimize exposure between employees and even between employees and the public if health officials call for social distancing.

Air Ventilation

Viruses can spread in inadequately ventilated environmental spaces. Internal spaces need to be well ventilated, preferably by fresh air via opening windows, or otherwise by properly designed and maintained heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Employers should gain assurance from facility operations, engineering-maintenance, and property owner staff that building HVAC systems are maintained and to the appropriate standard.

Never underestimate the importance of proper and adequate air filtering systems. There is little point in having an effective employee-visitor monitoring system to keep sickness out when the virus may enter offices through an inadequately maintained ventilation system.

Cleaning Methods

Review your environmental/janitorial cleaning procedures, and contracts to ensure your cleaning staff undertake appropriate cleaning measures during an outbreak including frequent disinfection of high contact surface areas (e.g., elevator buttons, doorknobs, light switches, microwaves, refrigerator handles, phones, keyboards, workstations, handrails, etc.) with appropriate cleaning products. Those responsible for cleaning will need proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and adequate levels of cleaning and sanitation supplies, which should be stockpiled. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning, disinfection, and personal protective products. Consideration should be given to the frequency and type of cleaning/disinfection measures performed.

Employee Lounge/Break Room Areas

Remove any shared dishware, storage containers, and eating utensils from employee lounge/break room areas. Employees who use personal dishware, for instance, coffee mugs, should thoroughly clean them after each use and store them in a separate area to discourage use. Consider using only disposable cups, plasticware, and plates.

Reading Materials

Remove newspapers, magazines, and books from reception and waiting areas. Multiple visitors handle reading materials is an ideal medium for the transmission of a virus.

Businesses who share communal newspapers or magazines amongst several employees should either consider moving to a digital subscription, temporarily canceling the item, or ordering copies for each person. Materials should be disposed after use.

Mail/Package Deliveries

Have mail and packages delivery/drop-offs occur at a central delivery point and outside of main office areas, so delivery/collection personnel do not enter the office environment. Wash your hands after handling any mail or packages.

Using a collaborative multi-disciplinary approach is the key to a great defense in fighting the battle against COVID-19. The time is now for business leaders from operations, business continuity, communications, facilities management, human resources, information technology, risk management, safety, security, and other areas to come together and unite to create a strategy and comprehensive defense plan. As of this article, the immediate health risk in the United States from COVID-19 is considered low in non-healthcare settings. The severity and impact of the outbreak are still undetermined. Always follow the advice and recommendations of your public health officials.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Keith Frederick & Daniel Olbur

Keith Frederick, FBCI, CBCP, CHEP, is a thought leader, author, speaker, and solutions specialist in organizational resilience, incident management, business continuity, and disaster recovery. For 25 years, he has been serving, protecting, and defending organizations against risks and threats that pose a significant impact on every aspect of the business. Formerly, Frederick served as the head of organizational resilience at Duke University's Clinical Research Institute, director of emergency management, business continuity, infection control, and safety at Kaiser Permanente, and emergency management consultant at SAIC. His prior background in 911 public safety, strategic and operational leadership, risk management, and consulting roles with biotech, financial, healthcare, insurance, technology, and the government lend itself to his unique perspective and deep understanding, knowledge, and appreciation about the importance of pandemic and workforce continuity planning. ... Daniel Olbur, MBA, MBCI, CBCP, is a passionate client and community-focused crisis management and business continuity advocate. Business continuity has been part of Olbur’s DNA since 2005. Today, he helps manage an award-winning business continuity and crisis management program. His team is involved in round the clock monitoring throughout various parts of the world, focused on proactively seeking out where incidents can and will take place.

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