Industrial hygiene is the science of protecting and enhancing the health and safety of people at work and in their communities, according to the American Board of Industrial Hygiene.
“Health and safety hazards cover a wide range of chemical, physical, biological, and ergonomic stressors,” the ABIH website states. However, in past weeks, biological has moved to the head of the line with regard to stressors.
In response to the onset of COVID-19, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released an online publication – “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” – based on a combination of traditional infection prevention and industrial hygiene practices.
As the introduction states, this guide “focuses on the need for employers to implement engineering, administrative, and work practice controls and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as considerations for doing so.”
Any plan employers develop should consider the level of risk associated with various worksites and job tasks workers perform at those sites, the OSHA guide states. Where, how, and to what sources of COVID-19 might workers be exposed to at work and home?
Consider the workers’ individual risk factors, such as age, pregnancy, or chronic medical conditions, particularly immunocompromising conditions. Most importantly, consider the tools and devices workers share to do their jobs.
Basic infection prevention measures have been well publicized. Promote frequent and thorough hand washing by providing workers soap and warm running water. If that is not immediately available, provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol.
Remember the World War II era workplace posters reminding workers “loose lips sink ships” and “idle hands work for Hitler?” Something that strident would not be out of line in encouraging respiratory etiquette, such as “cover those coughs and sneezes.” Even more useful, provide tissues and trash receptacles.
Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment when possible, the OSHA guide stresses.
Maintain regular housekeeping practices, including routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. When choosing cleaning chemicals, employers should consult information on Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectant for use against emerging viral pathogens.
Follow the manufacturers’ instructions for use of all cleaning and disinfection products as to concentration, application method, and contact time. Also, check if PPE is required to use these products.
Employers should explore establishing flexible work hours or staggered shifts to further increase the physical distance between employees. Telecommuting is ideal for office staff, but may not be practical on the factory floor.
Find the complete OSHA workplace guide at osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf. Above all, encourage workers to stay home if they are sick, period.