Reducing the Spread of COVID-19 in Workplaces
To keep your employees safe, you should:
- Consider options to increase physical space between employees and customers such as opening a drive- through, erecting partitions, and marking floors to guide spacing at least 6 feet apart.
- At least once a day, clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched by multiple people. This includes door handles, desks, phones, light switches, and faucets.
- Consider assigning a person to rotate throughout the workplace to clean and disinfect surfaces.
- Consider scheduling handwashing breaks so employees can wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Consider scheduling a relief person to give cashiers and service desk employees an opportunity to wash their hands.
- Additional information on how to keep employees safe can be found in the CDC Guidance for Businesses and Employers.
Evaluate your workplace to identify situations where employees cannot maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from each other and/or customers. Use appropriate combinations of controls following the hierarchy of controls to addresses these situations to limit the spread of COVID-19. A committee of both employees and management may be the most effective way to recognize all of these scenarios.
It is important to note that control recommendations or interventions assigned to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 must be compatible with any safety programs and personal protective equipment (PPE) normally required for the job task.
Approaches to consider may include the following:
Alter the workspace using engineering controls to prevent exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.
- Make sure the workspace is well-ventilatedexternal icon.
- Change the alignment of workstations where feasible. For example, redesign workstations so employees are not facing each other.
- Consider making foot traffic one-way in narrow or confined areas, such as aisles and stairwells, to encourage single-file movement at a 6-foot distance.
- Set up, where possible, physical barriers between employees, and between employees and customers.
- Use strip curtains, plastic barriers, or similar materials to create impermeable dividers or partitions.
- Move electronic payment terminals/credit card readers farther away from the cashier to increase the distance between the customer and the cashier.
- Use visual cues such as floor decals, colored tape, and signs to remind employees to maintain distance of 6 feet from others, including at their workstation and in break areas.
- Consider these cues for customers as well, such as at the entrance or checkout line.
- Place handwashing stations or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol throughout the workplace for employees and customers.
- Use touch-free stations where possible.
- Make sure restrooms are well-stocked with soap and paper towels.
Provide training and other administrative policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- All employees should have a basic understanding of COVID-19, how the disease spreads, symptoms, and ways to prevent or minimize the spread.
- Trainings should cover the importance of social distancing (maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet), wearing cloth face coverings appropriately, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands, cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, not sharing personal items or tools/equipment unless absolutely necessary, and not touching the face, mouth, or eyes.
- Employees should be encouraged to go home or stay home if they feel sick. Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with local public healthexternal icon guidance, and that employees are aware of and understand these policies.
Use cloth face coverings as appropriate.
- Recommend employees wear a cloth face covering.
- Cloth face coverings are intended to protect other people—not the wearer. They are not considered PPE.
- Train employees how to put on and take off cloth face coverings to avoid contamination.
- Cloth face coverings should be washed and dried after each use.
- Cloth face coverings should not be worn if their use creates a new risk (e.g., interferes with driving or vision, contributes to heat-related illness) that exceeds their benefit of slowing the spread of the virus.
- Recommend that visitors to the workplace (service personnel, customers) also wear cloth face coverings.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE is the last step in the hierarchy of controls because it is harder to use effectively than other measures. To be protective and not introduce an additional hazard, the use of PPE requires characterization of the environment, knowledge of the hazard, training, and consistent correct use. This is why administrative and engineering controls are emphasized in guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19. In the current pandemic, use of PPE such as surgical masks or N-95 respirators is being prioritized for healthcare employees and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance unless they were required for the job before the pandemic.
Have conversations with employees if they express concerns. Some people may be at higher risk of severe illness. This includes older adults (65 years and older) and people of any age with serious underlying medical conditions. By using strategies that help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, you will help protect all employees, including those at higher risk. These strategies include:
- Implementing telework and other social distancing practices
- Actively encouraging employees to stay home when sick
- Providing sick leave
- Promoting handwashing
- Providing supplies and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for cleaning and disinfecting workspaces
- Requiring all employees to wear cloth face coverings
In workplaces where it is not possible to eliminate face-to-face contact (such as retail), consider assigning employees who are at higher risk of severe illness work tasks that allow them to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, if feasible.
Employers should not require employees to provide a note from their healthcare provider when they are sick and instead allow them to inform their supervisors or employee health services when they have conditions that put them at higher risk for diseases.
Cloth face coverings can prevent the wearer from spreading COVID-19 to others, but they may not always be appropriate. Employees should consider using an alternative under certain conditions at work, including:
- If they have trouble breathing.
- If they are unable to remove it without help.
- If it interferes with vision, glasses, or eye protection.
- If straps, strings, or other parts of the covering could get caught in equipment.
- If other work hazards associated with wearing the covering are identified and cannot be addressed without removal of the face covering.
Cloth face coverings should not be worn if their use creates a new risk (e.g., interferes with driving or vision, contributes to heat-related illness) that exceeds their benefit of slowing the spread of the virus.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)pdf iconexternal icon suggests that an employee wear a face shield if a cloth face covering is recommended but the employee cannot tolerate wearing a cloth face covering. If used, a face shield should cover the entire front and sides of the face and extend below the chin.
Source control is a term used to describe measures (e.g., cloth face coverings or face shields) intended to prevent people with COVID-19 from spreading the disease to others. COVID-19 is spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Evidence suggests that people who have mild symptoms or no symptoms can spread it to others without realizing they are infected. Cloth face coverings and face shields are types of source control that provide a barrier between droplets produced from a potentially infected person and other people, reducing the likelihood of transmitting the virus.
No, cloth face coverings are not PPE. These face coverings are not respirators and are not appropriate substitutes for them in workplaces where respirators are recommended or required for respiratory protection.
When wearing a cloth face covering, it should fit over the nose and mouth, fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, and be secured with ties or ear loops. The cloth face covering should allow the wearer to breathe without restriction.
Employees should avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth as well as the inside or outside of the face covering while putting on, wearing, and removing it. When putting on and removing it, they should only touch the ties or ear loops.
If storing the cloth face covering while at work, employees should place the used cloth face covering into a container or paper bag labeled with the employee’s name.
Cloth face coverings should not be shared with others unless they are washed and dried first.
If the cloth face covering becomes wet, visibly soiled, or contaminated at work, it should be removed and stored to be laundered later. The employee should put on a clean cloth face covering or disposable face mask. If cloth face coverings are provided by the employer, a clean face covering should be issued to replace the soiled one.
Employees should wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after putting on, touching, or removing cloth face coverings. If soap and water are not available, they should use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Laundry instructions depend on the cloth used to make the face covering. In general, cloth face coverings should be washed regularly (e.g., daily after each shift) using water and a mild detergent and dried completely in a hot dryer. If a washing machine and dryer are not available, an alternative is to soak the cloth face covering in a diluted bleach (0.1%) solution, rinse, and air dry completely. Hands should be washed before laundering the cloth face coverings.
CDC recommends employees protect themselves from respiratory illness with everyday preventive actions, including good hand hygiene. Employees should wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available, especially during key times when persons are likely to be infected by or spread germs:
- After blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- After using the toilet
- After touching garbage
- Before and after the work shift
- Before and after work breaks
- After touching objects that have been handled by customers or other employees
Employees should take the following steps to protect themselves at work:
- Follow the policies and procedures of the employer related to illness, cleaning and disinfecting, and work meetings and travel.
- Stay home if sick, except to get medical care.
- Practice social distancing by keeping at least 6 feet away from fellow co-employees, customers, and visitors when possible.
- Wear cloth face coverings, especially when social distancing is not possible.
- Employees should inform their supervisor if they or their colleagues develop symptoms at work. No one with COVID-19 symptoms should be present at the workplace.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing noses, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place.
- Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.
- To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, etc.
- Where possible, avoid direct physical contact such as shaking hands with people.
- Minimize handling cash, credit cards, and mobile or electronic devices when possible.
- Avoid all non-essential travel.
Screening employees is an optional strategy that employers may use. Performing screening or health checks will not be completely effective because asymptomatic individuals or individuals with mild non-specific symptoms may not realize they are infected and may pass through screening. Screening and health checks are not a replacement for other protective measures such as social distancing.
Consider encouraging individuals planning to enter the workplace to self-screen prior to coming onsite and not to attempt to enter the workplace if any of the following are present:
- Symptoms of COVID-19
- Fever equal to or higher than 100.4oF*
- Are under evaluation for COVID-19 (for example, waiting for the results of a viral test to confirm infection)
- Have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and not yet cleared to discontinue isolation
*A lower temperature threshold (e.g., 100.0oF) may be used, especially in healthcare settings.
Content of screening questions
If you decide to actively screen employees for symptoms rather than relying on self-screening, consider which symptoms to include in your assessment. Although there are many different symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19, you may not want to treat every employee with a single non-specific symptom (e.g., a headache) as a suspect case of COVID-19 and send them home until they meet criteria for discontinuation of isolation.
Consider focusing the screening questions on “new” or “unexpected” symptoms (e.g., a chronic cough would not be a positive screen). Consider including these symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish (chills, sweating)
- New cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches or body aches
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- New loss of taste or smell
Protection of screeners
There are several methods that employers can use to protect the employee conducting the screening. The most protective methods incorporate social distancing (maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others), or physical barriers to eliminate or minimize the screener’s exposures due to close contact with a person who has symptoms during screening. Examples to consider that incorporate these types of controls for temperature screening include:
- Reliance on Social Distancing: Ask employees to take their own temperature either before coming to the workplace or upon arrival at the workplace. Upon their arrival, stand at least 6 feet away from the employee and:
- Ask the employee to confirm that their temperature is less than 100.4o F (38.0o C) and confirm that they are not experiencing coughing or shortness of breath.
- Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks or fatigue.
- Screening staff do not need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) if they can maintain a distance of 6 feet.
- Reliance on Barrier/Partition Controls: During screening, the screener stands behind a physical barrier, such as a glass or plastic window or partition, that can protect the screener’s face and mucous membranes from respiratory droplets that may be produced when the employee sneezes, coughs, or talks. Upon arrival, the screener should wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Then:
- Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks or fatigue.
- Conduct temperature and symptom screening using this protocol:
- Put on disposable gloves.
- Check the employee’s temperature, reaching around the partition or through the window. Make sure the screener’s face stays behind the barrier at all times during the screening.
- If performing a temperature check on multiple individuals, make sure that you use a clean pair of gloves for each employee and that the thermometer has been thoroughly cleaned in between each check. If disposable or non-contact thermometers are used and you did not have physical contact with an individual, you do not need to change gloves before the next check. If non-contact thermometers are used, clean and disinfect them according to manufacturer’s instructions and facility policies.
- Remove and discard PPE (gloves), and wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
If social distance or barrier controls cannot be implemented during screening, PPE can be used when the screener is within 6 feet of an employee during screening. However, reliance on PPE alone is a less effective control and more difficult to implement given PPE shortages and training requirements.
- Reliance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Upon arrival, the screener should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, put on a face mask, eye protection (goggles or disposable face shield that fully covers the front and sides of the face), and a single pair of disposable gloves. A gown could be considered if extensive contact with an employee is anticipated. Then:
- Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks or fatigue, and confirm that the employee is not experiencing coughing or shortness of breath.
- Take the employee’s temperature.
- If performing a temperature check on multiple individuals, make sure that you use a clean pair of gloves for each employee and that the thermometer has been thoroughly cleaned in between each check. If disposable or non-contact thermometers are used and you did not have physical contact with an individual, you do not need to change gloves before the next check. If non-contact thermometers are used, you should clean and disinfect them according to manufacturer’s instructions and facility policies.
- After each screening or after several screenings, where you did not have physical contact with an individual, remove and discard PPE and wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Discard PPE into a trash can. Facility waste does not need disinfection.