9 Ways to Protect the Physical Health of Employees Returning to Work


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Many organizations are getting ready to welcome back their workforce amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and some have already reopened their doors and are in the process of helping staff settle back in. But no matter where you are on your journey, employers are under increasing pressure to protect the physical (and mental) health of their employees as the virus continues to spread.

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9 Ways to Protect the Physical Health of Employees Returning to Work

HR teams, in particular the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), have got their work cut out for them right now as they try to prepare the workplace and put additional safety measures in place before workers return. But what exactly should CHROs be doing to make this as smooth and safe as possible?

Below, we’ll take a look at nine ways organizations and their HR teams can get effective measures in place to help protect the physical health of all employees.

1. Communicate effectively with employees

CHROs and their teams need to reach out to employees and ask them what their main concerns are about returning to the workplace. By finding out what the workforce is most worried about with regards to their physical health, organizations can tackle these issues head-on and show employees they're doing all they can to keep them safe. It’s also important to keep the lines of communication firmly open at all times so individuals can voice their concerns at any time, not just upon their return.

2. Make staff aware of the symptoms and rules

One of the simplest ways to keep staff safe is by reminding everyone of the symptoms of COVID-19 so they’re able to recognize them faster. You could put together a welcome (back) pack or an email that outlines the key signs to look out for. Similarly, make sure everyone is aware of the rules and that they shouldn’t come into work if they experience any of the symptoms. Encouraging self-isolation and letting staff know it’s OK not to come in (at least not until they’ve had a test that comes back negative) will reduce the stigma around taking sick leave and should cut down on the number of people taking risks and coming in even if they're feeling unwell.

3. Provide protective equipment where necessary

One important way to help protect employees is to make sure they have access to any protective equipment they might need. It’s a good idea to encourage everyone to wear masks when moving about the office (if they're able to). It also pays to set up multiple sanitation stations around the workplace consisting of alcohol-based hand gel, tissues, anti-bacterial spray, and even disposable masks for those who might have forgotten their own.

4. Promote hygiene amongst employees and anyone coming into the workspace

Although it might seem obvious (and perhaps even a little patronizing) it’s always a good idea to remind employees that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and that steps as simple a washing their hands more regularly and thoroughly can make all the difference. Perhaps mention this in a ‘welcome back’ or ‘COVID-19 care’ email sent out to all workers. You could also put up posters in any bathrooms, kitchens, and shared spaces as a reminder.

5. Make sure your workplace is sufficiently clean

Even if your workplace is always clean and tidy, it’s important to remember that germs and bacteria can hang around on surfaces and could potentially spread illness. As such, it’s a good idea to double up on your usual cleaning regime, whether that’s getting the janitor to stay longer or having your cleaner come in two or three times a day.

You should also encourage employees to clean up after themselves, particularly when using shared spaces. To do this, provide sufficient cleaning wipes, clothes, and anti-bacterial spray around the workplace. You might also wish to put up posters reminding employees to be kind and considerate, and clean up as they go.

6. Re-arrange workstations and spaces

Where possible, it’s a good idea to space seats, desks, and workstations at least one or two meters apart to encourage social distancing. If you work in an office environment where hot desking is the norm, it’s best to stop this for now. Make sure that everyone has a dedicated workspace and that they aren't moving around and potentially spreading germs each day.

7. Keep your workplace as ventilated as much as possible

It can be tougher in the colder months, but keeping your workplace ventilated is important. This means having doors and windows open whenever possible to ensure airflow, providing it won’t leave your staff feeling cold and agitated. On days when it’s just a bit chillier outside, encourage employees to wrap up in warmer clothes and keep a window or two open as much as you can.

8. Embrace contactless technology where possible

Depending on the nature of your organization, you might be required to take payments or check people in and out. If this is the case, you can help to protect staff and visitors by using contactless technology wherever possible. This can be the ideal way to keep your employees safe; embrace contactless card payments, dedicated apps, or ask people to fill in their information online before arriving.

9. Create a COVID-19 response plan

It’s important that you prepare for the worst-case scenario by putting together a COVID-19 response plan. If someone in your workplace develops symptoms or tests positive, you need to take action immediately. In these cases, it’s likely that you’ll have to ask all employees to isolate for at least two weeks and have the workplace deep cleaned once again before everyone returns. It can be useful to put your response plan into a document and circulate this to all staff so they're aware of what could happen should the virus make its way into your workplace.

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