The Essential New Role of Safety for Businesses in COVID

More than a year into the pandemic, businesses of all kinds face similar challenges in reopening. Key among them: operating in a world where stringent practices around health and safety have become just as critical as customer service and the bottom line.

The Essential New Role of Safety for Businesses in COVID

In a February 2021 survey, about a quarter of adults said they won’t feel comfortable visiting a retailer, restaurant, grocery store, or other business in person even after receiving the vaccine. Cyclical outbreaks could be a reality for some time to come. Companies are looking for guidance on reopening a safe and germ-free environment for their employees, vendors, and customers.

Local regulations, CDC guidelines and the industry a company is in all help determine safety measures. In this article, we explore ways to create a clean work environment:

  • The need for a detailed comprehensive cleaning plan
  • Tools that help reduce physical touchpoints
  • How to support social distancing

Content Summary

PLAN FOR THE ‘NEVER NORMAL’
PROCURING SUPPLIES AND TECHNOLOGIES
EXECUTING AND REASSESSING

MORE THAN A YEAR INTO THE PANDEMIC, business owners are learning things every day about reopening and operating in the new reality of the virus. Depending on their industry and location, businesses across North America are in various stages of reopening, but they all face similar challenges.

While yesterday’s business was high-touch and face-to-face with open floor plans and togetherness, today’s environment is about being touch-free and apart, separated by barriers, space, and floor plans. Businesses must now operate in a world where stringent practices around health and safety are just as critical as customer service and the bottom line.

Many companies need a process and guidance on reopening a safe and germ-free environment. This playbook, along with this list of 102 things to do before reopening your business, can help pave the way to more business certainty in uncertain times.

PLAN FOR THE ‘NEVER NORMAL’

In this new environment, it can often feel as if there are endless things to do to reopen your business after a pandemic-related closure. Even with falling case numbers and growing vaccine distribution, health will remain a primary concern for the foreseeable future. Approximately a quarter of adults say they won’t feel comfortable visiting a retailer, restaurant, grocery store, or other business in person, even after receiving the vaccine, according to a February 2021 Bankrate.com survey.

Accenture noted in a report that the challenges of reopening vary by industry. Even as North America nears herd immunity, cyclical outbreaks could be a reality for some time to come. Employers will have to create safe working environments with new processes and protocols for social distancing, stringent cleaning, and touchless operations. Many businesses should start their reopening plans by looking to their employees and local regulations, says Eric Reuscher, CSP, HACP, who is safety product and services manager at Global Industrial, a Systemax company.

“The first thing is to ensure your employees feel safe,” says Reuscher. “They’re really going to dictate much of it. There really has to be a marriage between local regulations, CDC guidance, and employees.”

Geography and industry can also influence what businesses must do to reopen, he adds. For instance, while there may be great public concern about the virus in places like New York and Toronto, consumers tend to be less hesitant in states like Florida and Texas. Organizations should consider local markets and regulations within their own organization’s mission and protocols, says Joseph Dunne, director of sales enablement at Global Industrial, a Systemax company. “It’s less about vertical and more about what you need to do by state—and then what that looks like in your industry. The local regulations should serve as guardrails,” says Dunne.

For example, manufacturers, insurance agencies, and restaurants will have different needs based on the work their employees do and their interactions with the public. Organizations should consider these guardrails before deciding how policies will affect the way they conduct business—in both what they can do and what is required. Many of Global Industrial’s clients have followed the “Return, Restore, Rebound” approach by preparing facilities to meet new safety protocols, returning to a safe workplace for employees, and reclaiming the business and customers.

Companies should also create written plans for reopening, Reuscher says. These serve as valuable documentation for stakeholders and local authorities. “If it’s not written down, OSHA won’t believe it. If OSHA does implement and put in place an updated COVID-19 work standard, then I am sure by law it will be required to be written.”

“THE FIRST THING IS TO ENSURE YOUR EMPLOYEES FEEL SAFE. THEY’RE REALLY GOING TO DICTATE MUCH OF IT. THERE REALLY HAS TO BE A MARRIAGE BETWEEN LOCAL REGULATIONS, CDC GUIDANCE AND EMPLOYEES.” – ERIC REUSCHER, CSP, HACP, Safety product, and services manager at Global Industrial, a Systemax company

PROCURING SUPPLIES AND TECHNOLOGIES

The pandemic has led organizations to seek new supplies and technologies with which they may have little experience. Businesses have spent billions on cleaning products and processes, according to the Wall Street Journal. While tight supply chains seen at the start of the pandemic have since loosened, many businesses still need guidance on what to buy, how to clean, and how to prepare to reopen their doors.

Business should consider three key elements of reopening:

  • COMPREHENSIVE CLEANING
  • SUPPORTING SOCIAL DISTANCING
  • REDUCING TOUCHPOINTS

COMPREHENSIVE CLEANING

During the pandemic, businesses ramped up the frequency of cleaning, and they used new products. Dunne recommends businesses look to local authorities to assess and redesign their cleaning protocols. The CDC has also issued guidance for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, including developing a plan, implementing a plan, and maintaining and refreshing it. For most, this cleaning also requires an ample supply of things like masks, cleaning wipes, disinfectants, floor scrubbers, and antimicrobial shelving.

“MOST BUSINESSES HAVE NEVER PUT THIS TYPE OF EFFORT INTO SANITIZING SPACES. AND TO TELL SOMEBODY TO MAKE SURE THEY GET EVERY SURFACE IS PROBABLY NOT ENOUGH DIRECTION FOR WHAT THE NEW PROGRAM SHOULD BE.” – JOSEPH DUNNE, Director of sales enablement at Global Industrial, a Systemax company

Organizations will need to go from room to room with a checklist, taking notes about how to clean and identifying frequently-touched areas in all parts of the rooms. Office-based businesses may not be used to this level of cleaning. They may have to move from occasional after-hours cleaning sessions to a daytime crew that cleans more regularly. They will need tools that clean large surfaces most efficiently, such as misters and sprayers. And they will need two to four times more cleaning products than they usually have on hand. These sanitation chemicals should be listed on the EPA list, which is approved by the CDC.

“If you use an EPA-listed chemical, you’re covering yourself to say you are doing what the CDC is saying to do,” Reuscher says.

Businesses must also ensure that their cleaning protocols meet the demands of their employees and their customers. A survey of consumers conducted by the American Cleaning Institute found consumers want businesses to provide hand sanitizer (73%), frequently wipe down surfaces (77%), and install signs with information on cleaning measures and regulations (53%).

CONSUMERS WANT BUSINESSES TO: * American Cleaning Institute

  • 73% Provide hand sanitizer
  • 77% Frequently wipe down surfaces
  • 53% Install signs with information on cleaning measures and regulations

SUPPORTING SOCIAL DISTANCING

Social distancing has proved to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the virus’ spread, and it is a primary component of many reopening plans. More than half of surveyed businesses have changed workspace layouts to address COVID-19 challenges, according to a report by PwC. Reuscher recommends companies take a close look at their working spaces and how employees and customers navigate through the facility during the day. “You want to do what you can to break that up,” he says.

Organizations should create a formal plan that documents how people move about their facilities. They can also clearly communicate policies and install signs to ensure compliance with social distancing requirements. All the elements—signs, new layouts, schedules, and new workflows—will help employees and customers maintain adequate distance, Reuscher says.

Partitions and plastic barriers can be used to space out work areas. Companies can also look to crowd control barriers, plexiglass barriers, and floor markers to indicate walkway direction. Other tactics include mobile or compact furniture, barriers and cones, and welcome mats. Amazon uses sensors in its facility for contact tracing and ensuring people maintain proper distance.

Refining work processes to reduce the need for people to come into contact with one another can also have a significant impact. Something as simple as buying additional garbage cans or creating a second breakroom could reduce contact, says Reuscher.

“They’re going to have to evaluate how people enter and leave and how they have their lunches and breaks. You have to control spacing because no matter what, people are going to want to congregate closer than six feet,” he says.

REDUCING TOUCHPOINTS

One of the best ways to reduce the risk of spread is with devices, solutions, and applications that reduce physical touchpoints. This can include motion-activated faucets and dispensers for soap and paper towels. Sixty percent of Americans now say their preference for touchless handwashing fixtures rose in the pandemic, according to a survey from Bradley Corp. Doors that don’t need to be closed at all times can be left open to reduce another point of contact.

“If you have a lot of high-touch, high-congregation areas, you may have to do something different when you reopen,” Reuscher says. “You have to think about what that’s going to look like and what you need to support it.”

When used with social distancing and mask-wearing, air filtration can help reduce virus spread, according to the EPA. Upgrading air filters and deploying portable air cleaning systems to supplement HVAC systems can improve airflow and help meet any local requirements.

EXECUTING AND REASSESSING

Even as organizations implement their plans, they will have to continually adapt and adjust as time goes on. As of April 2021, COVID-19 cases were rising again in more than half of the states in the U.S., and Ontario had imposed a four-week state of emergency, reinstituting restrictions on businesses and residents. Resilient companies realize that what is working and in line with regulations today may not be the case tomorrow. Just as important, businesses will also need plans that address positive cases or outbreaks among staff.

“There’s a component to not just reopening but staying open and being able to adapt,” Reuscher says.

Virus spikes could lead to another run on cleaning products, so having just-in-time inventory is a “thing of the past,” Dunne says. Running out of cleaning supplies and products could stop work altogether. “It would be foolish for a company that plans to stay reopened to not have more than their traditional supply on hand for everything that relates to cleaning and sanitizing,” Dunne says.