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When news was initially released that Wuhan, China was impacted by the coronavirus, EI immediately launched a series of weekly educational blogs in mid-January highlighting pragmatic occupational health and industrial hygiene practices which minimize the possibility of coronavirus transmission in the workplace.
The blog series has since covered the following topics:
1. Business Contingency Plans (January 27, 2020 and February 6, 2020) – Includes coronavirus pandemic planning
2. Respiratory Protection (February 13, 2020) – N95’s vs. Surgical Masks
3. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) (March 23, 2020) – Monitoring/corrective measures to minimize airborne COVID-19
4. Cleaning & Disinfection (March 25, 2020) – Cleaning, Disinfection & Verification Protocol as well as optimal EPA List N disinfectants & importance of proper application
5. Navigating COVID-19 (April 7, 2020) – Employer Guidance for Voluntary Respirator Use
6. Employee Medical Screening (April 8, 2020) – Detailed Guidance for identifying potential carriers of COVID-19
7. OSHA Recordkeeping (April 15, 2020) – Is COVID-19 Recordable on the OSHA 300 Log?\\\\
8. Reopening Business (April 29, 2020) – Guidelines for Minimizing Occupational COVID-19 Transmission
9. Training Students (May 7, 2020) – In the Era of COVID-19
10. Industry Sector-Specific Guidelines (May 12, 2020) – For Re-Opening Our Nation’s Businesses
11. COVID-19 Recovery Guidance (May 19, 2020) – Water System Restart from No- or Low-Occupancy Operation
12. Going Back to Work (May 21, 2020) – Considerations for Owners and Managers to Protect Employees, Tenants and Contractors
13. The Emergency Action Plan and COVID-19 (June 3, 2020) – Is it Time for a Revision?
14. The Re-Emergence of the Occupational Health Nurse (June 17, 2020) – As Employers Return to Work
15. OSHA COVID-19 Recordkeeping (June 23, 2020) – OSHA Revises Earlier Requirements for Cases
16. Airborne COVID-19 Transmission in the Workplace (July 23, 2020)
17. Are You Neglecting Safety Programs During the Pandemic? (August 18, 2020)
18. Part I: Lessons Learned from Occupational COVID-19 Screening (August 27, 2020)
19. Environmental Surveillance: COVID-19 Testing of Wastewater (September 3, 2020)
20. Part II: Lessons Learned from Occupational COVID-19 Screening – 140,000 Employees Screened Over 6 Months (September 10, 2020)
21. Part III: Tips for an Effective Occupational COVID-19 Screening Process (September 17, 2020)
The background information in EI’s blog series builds an excellent foundation for a comprehensive plan to minimize occupational transmission of COVID-19 when reopening businesses.
Lessons Learned from Occupational COVID-19 Screening – Part III: Tips for an Effective COVID-19 Screening Process
Maintaining continuity of technicians who perform screening is one of the most important aspects for the effective identification of coronavirus carriers. Developing rapport with employees during COVID-19 screening, especially when administering the COVID-19 screening questionnaire, is imperative. Having consistent personnel perform COVID-19 screening day after day creates an environment of trust.
Adequate planning for an occupational screening process is key for an efficient and effective operation to identify potential coronavirus carriers BEFORE they enter the workspace. Will the screening operation be staffed using the existing workforce or by engaging a third party? If staffed internally, do these “in-house” employees have sufficient training in PPE and bloodborne pathogen control? What types of PPE will be used?
Testing wastewater for the presence of pathogens as a surveillance tool has been used by for many years (Poliovirus and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as an example). This public health tool is now being utilized during the current pandemic to detect SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) by analyzing wastewater samples from public and private wastewater systems for non-infective RNA fragments of the virus.
EI’s next two blog entries will focus on the major points garnered from our field experience during screening of 120,000 employees to identify potential COVID-19 carriers as they reported to work at numerous manufacturing/pharma/biopharma facilities over the past 6 months. During the COVID-19 screening process, in order to minimize potential COVID-19 transmission in the workplace, EI employed the New Rochelle Incident Command model for coronavirus testing, where employee body temperature and a standardized COVID-19 questionnaire was administered from their vehicles as employees arrived to work.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic deserves the attention and resources it continues to receive in the American workplace. Numerous EHS managers who built their careers on anticipating the unexpected wonder how they failed to see this crisis coming. As businesses look for any light at the end of the tunnel, health and safety professionals vow to learn from this coronavirus experience and use its distinct lessons to prepare EHS programs for the future.
EI continues to closely monitor the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and provide our clients and the general public with current, relevant guidance based on our experience with Occupational Health, Industrial Hygiene, Safety Compliance and Engineering services performed during the pandemic. We have documented our progress, shared our learnings, and offered our insight for managing/minimizing exposures through our blog, which launched on January 27, 2020.
On April 10, 2020, OSHA issued a memorandum which relaxed the rules for recording cases of COVID-19 on the OSHA 300. EI first reported on this topic back on April 15, 2020. More recently, OSHA issued another memorandum intended to provide guidance for compliance officers, rescinding those earlier restrictions and returning to standard recordkeeping practices for all employers as of May 26, 2020.
In the early 1970s, OSHA was established by the Federal government to prevent work related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Given the comprehensive nature of OSHA compliance and the lack of familiarity by manufacturing company management with worker health and safety compliance, the demand for “in-house” medical and safety professionals grew rapidly. Between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, the percentage of industrial operations with 250+ manufacturing employees, who had “in-house” occupational health nurse (OHN) support to assist with OSHA compliance initiatives, was high.
The COVID-19 virus has forced us to change our way of living…and working. While many employers are slowly beginning to resume business, it is not business as usual. Consider your emergency action plan (EAP) for example. While setting up barriers, teaching about social distancing and providing masks for your workers, did you remember to address, and update if necessary, your EAP?
Going Back to Work? Considerations for Owners and Managers to Protect Employees, Tenants and Contractors
We are not out of the woods yet, as the health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic remain. However, the phased opening of our economy and the opportunity to return to work is a measured and controlled path that appears to make sense. Though, this will put those returning workers’ health (and their family’s health) at risk.
Therefore, it is incumbent on building and business owners/managers to do what they can to make returning to the workplace as safe as possible. Planning, monitoring, and communication will be the cornerstones of creating a safe work environment to minimize the health risks associated with this virus.
Step one in restarting a commercial building water system is an assessment. It is imperative you know your water system; its piping configuration and end uses. The objective of the procedure is to flush the entire water system and the effectiveness of this flush/disinfection will be compromised if any portion of the system is not fully flushed.
This week, America’s businesses are grappling with the idea of re-opening and returning to some form of normalcy, whatever that is, following the many impacts of COVID-19 on our nation’s health and economy. This return is particularly difficult for the nation’s smaller businesses, especially those that deal with customers and members of the public.
The “new normal,” as social distancing guidelines are relaxed, will be focused on practical methods to prevent pathogen transmission and aimed at protecting public health. As the demand for our hands-on classroom certification and educational training in occupational health, safety, industrial hygiene and environmental compliance rapidly “returns to normal,” EI has developed a plan, aimed at providing a safe classroom environment to our students.
Reopening Business: “Guidelines for Minimizing Occupational COVID-19 Transmission as Social Distancing is Relaxed”
Once your community is no longer requiring significant mitigation policies in response to COVID-19, social distancing will be gradually relaxed. This prudent “step by step” approach should also be followed when re-staffing business operations.
Under normal circumstances, OSHA would require employers to determine work-relatedness in order to decide if an injury or illness should be recorded on the OSHA 300 (the Log). Making that determination was not, in most cases, very difficult.
Is your operation classified as an “essential business” during “Stay at Home” social distancing policies which have been implemented by over 40 states nationwide? Have you identified key employees necessary at the workplace to keep your business viable during the pandemic? If so, your operation is faced with the tremendous responsibility of minimizing the potential for employee-to-employee transmission of the coronavirus. Identification of workers with COVID-19 symptoms or employees who may have been exposed to known carriers is paramount in minimizing viral transmission within your workforce.
There has been a great deal of confusion and misinformation lately regarding the use of respirators as a safeguard from COVID-19. The most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that wearing some type of face mask may prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, but offers little protection from contracting the disease.
The pathogen occupying all of our thoughts at present is transmitted from person-to-person primarily via virus-impacted droplets that are generated when infected persons cough, sneeze or speak. Studies have found that the COVID-19 virus can remain viable on surfaces for several hours up to days, including up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
EI has been closely monitoring the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and documenting its progress and impact in a series of blogs beginning late January. Early in this series we addressed the importance of updating corporate business contingency plans to include key strategies which address the impact of COVID-19 on employees/business operations. EI’s third blog addressed proper personal protective equipment to minimize exposure to the pathogen, including a comparison of the effectiveness of N95 respirators versus surgical masks.
As the virus (newly dubbed COVID-19 by the World Health Organization) accelerates and spreads beyond Chinese borders, businesses are deploying increasingly rigorous measures to limit the spread of the potential pandemic. Most news articles covering the spread of the virus include photos of travelers or government officials wearing surgical masks. But how effective will surgical masks for respiratory protection from the pathogen turn out to be? Is a surgical mask enough or is an N95 respirator needed?
Deep Breath: Respiratory Protection in the Growing COVID-19 Epidemic
February 13, 2020
Minimizing Airborne Exposure to COVID-19 in Buildings
March 23, 2020
Is COVID-19 Recordable on the OSHA 300 Log?
April 15, 2020
Training Students in the Era of COVID-19
May 7, 2020
Aiborne COVID-19 Transmission in the Workplace
July 23, 2020
Are You Neglecting Safety Programs During the Pandemic?
August 18, 2020
Part I: Lessons Learned from Occupational COVID-19 Screening
August 27, 2020
Environmental Surveillance: COVID-19 Testing of Wastewater
September 3, 2020
Part III: Tips for an Effective Occupational COVID-19 Screening Process
September 17, 2020