As we all consider getting our teams back to work (or back to the workplace), many of us have the same question: How do we do that in a way that keeps our employees, and their families, safe?

It’s a simple question, but one that demands an incredible amount of thoughtfulness and preparation.

Using the National Safety Council‘s forthcoming SAFER program as our guide, here are 5 factors to consider as you plan, prepare, and adjust in the coming weeks and months with our new normal. 

This isn’t comprehensive, but this can help you as you begin to plan and implement a series of phases to get people back to work safely: 

steps to help you draft your return to work plan1. Lay the foundation with physical considerations 

Some organizations have already had to make some adjustments, but others will need to consider how physical distance can be maintained, when possible; how building care and maintenance will happen; and in what ways infection control can be implemented. When employees work in a public environment, this will also include ways to mitigate risk for the health and safety of workers.

As you prepare physical spaces for people’s return, consider the following, among many other questions you will to answer, as suggested by the NSC:

  • What are the necessary sanitation requirements you will need to follow‑before workers come back to work and then during? What are the other cleaning and sanitation practices you will need to follow, including protocols to implement and frequency?
  • What will be occupancy constraints and how will you make sure the maximum capacity is not exceeded?
  • What other ways can you encourage physical distancing, such as staggered work times, alternating work days, or only certain staff coming in to the workplace to start, etc.?
  • What are all the ways you can reduce touch points in the facility/office?
  • What will be involved with proper use of PPE, including training on PPE and proper disposal of PPE and/or storage of PPE?
  • How will you address the building infrastructure needs (HVAC, etc.)?

2. Next, consider the medical health considerations

 The physical considerations and the physical safety are part of the plan you will create, which will likely exist in phases. But another key part of that are the actual medical considerations. 

The World Health Organization’s website has ongoing recommendations for how to best screen employees and how to best respond to medical concerns.

A few of the questions you can begin to answer as you plan will include:

  • How will you inform employees about how and why screenings will be conducted?
  • How will you educate employees on cleaning and disinfecting?
  • How will you proactively educate and train staff on best practices for personal hygiene, at home and at work?
  • What will your steps be to communicate with an employee if they have had interaction with a symptomatic employee?
  • How will you create and share medical reporting protocols for workers that develop symptoms?
  • How will you set up workplaces to encourage better personal hygiene and to minimize sharing of objects?

3. Continue to give your employees emotional support & resources they can utilize

Dealing with emotional discouragement and stress while reopening workplaces and having your workforces return is a critical component you’ll need to address in your plan.

how to help workers cope with the emotional side of returning to work

To the best of your ability, consider doing the following:

  • Communicate to all employees that it is very normal to feel added stress and anxiety during this period, and your organization understands and is ready to support them.
  • Ensure that workers have access to mental health resources available to your company
  • Establish a focus on mental health focus to proactively be able to look for and reduce signs of mental health issues
  • Share programs or vetted resources available outside of work – such as programs available in the community or online that may be of interest to employees
  • Provide links to national support hotlines
  • Adjust HR policies as needed
  • Address how stress can impact worker safety, and adjust normal policies and procedures and “demands” of the job accordingly

4. Stay proactive with all communication

Workers are well aware that change is coming, and they may be feeling a range of emotions on a day to day basis. Your communication and transparency with them can make all the difference and can help them better manage their anxiety and concerns about returning to work.

communication is key with your return to work plan

As you communicate to staff, consider the following: 

  •  Explain why protocols and design changes are being implemented
  •  Explain new entrance protocols and ensure staff have reviewed them before coming to work
  •  Develop plans for feedback and input
  •  Create a website or portal dedicated to COVID-19 related information that you can keep up-to-date with the latest information
  •  Make sure you have explained the process for those who are out for an extended period of time
  •  Take advantage of multiple channels for communication and share information in a variety of ways—not just in one format—to ensure the information is being reviewed by staff
  •  Communicate any changes to organizational policy as a result of government mandates
  •  Promote a culture that doesn’t tolerate negativity or gossip, which can be toxic and counter-productive as staff return to work

5. Prioritizing Will Help You Start

See the entire NSC SAFER Framework and specific details here so that your organization can build a program that, throughout its phases, brings people back safely to work without putting you or them at undue risk. Besides the areas we started to outline, you’ll also have to take into account the legal and HR policies and procedures specific to your organization, too.

The framework includes a lot of information, but you can prioritize and decide what makes most sense for your organization. I’m certain that your operational and safety teams are hard at work preparing, but I’d suggest making this an immediate priority. Get your folks together, make some decisions (or review the ones you’ve made), and make the commitment to implement a certain number in each category.

lead your teams back to work safely

And as the NSC says in the framework section, “all topic areas are not created equally”, so some will be more applicable to your particular business than others. I’ll leave it to you from here, and again these are only recommendations and suggestions.

Stay well, stay diligent, and lead your teams back to work safely.

Click here to see the resource directly cited in this article: SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns

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