Advocacy group releases guidelines for safe return to work

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Photo: National COSH

Los Angeles — To help ensure the safety of people returning to work – as well as those already on the job – during the COVID-pandemic, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health has released guidelines for workplace safety; worker participation; and fair compensation for sick, injured and at-risk workers.

In a report released May 14, National COSH states that essential businesses should have critical safety measures in place that are enforced and monitored. Contributing to the report – A Safe and Just Return to Work – were physicians, certified industrial hygienists, attorneys, academics, and leaders of nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations.

“The United States is far from being ready to open for business without putting not only workers but entire communities at grave risk of illness and death,” the report states. “Only the most essential businesses should be open, and even those must only be allowed to operate if critical safety measures are in place.”

The guidelines emphasize that protections must follow NIOSH’s Hierarchy of Controls, which places personal protective equipment as the final line of defense.

According to National COSH, a safe return-to-work strategy requires, at a minimum:

  • Effective and stringent health and safety protections informed by science; backed by robust enforcement; and designed with input from workers, employers and unions, among others.
  • A planned, detailed and meaningful system for testing, screening, contact tracing, isolation and epidemiological surveillance.
  • Guaranteed job protection and just compensation for workers, as well as individuals who can’t work.
  • Respect and inclusion of meaningful worker and union involvement in decision-making, return-to-work plans and workplace safety.
  • Measures to ensure equity, inclusion and a path to end health and economic disparities.

“Employers who adopt a ‘business-as-usual’ approach could cause workers and their family members to become sick or even die,” Sherry Baron, a professor of public health at Queens College in New York City and a contributor to the report, said in the release. “The right way to reduce risk and limit harm is to include workers in making the plan and implementing effective safety programs, based on the best available scientific evidence.

COVID-19 pandemic: CDC issues guidance for reopening businesses

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Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Atlanta — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines intended to help businesses, as well as schools and mass transit operations, safely reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 60-page guidance document outlines a three-phase approach that includes six “gating criteria” to move forward, such as decreases in newly identified COVID-19 cases, decreases in percentage of positive tests and a robust testing program.

CDC advises employers to consider a variety of measures for keeping people safe, including practices for “scaling up” operations, safety actions (e.g., cleaning and disinfection, and physical distancing), monitoring possible reemergence of the virus, and maintaining health operations. Workers who are at high risk for severe illness (i.e., anyone over the age of 65 or with existing health conditions) “should be encouraged to self-identify, and employers should avoid making unnecessary medical inquiries.”

Employers should move to the next phase only if they can ensure a certain level of physical distancing, proper cleaning and disinfection, and protection of workers and customers.

Additionally, employers are advised to limit nonessential travel based on state and local guidance, ask employees who use public transportation to adapt to teleworking, and train all managers on recommended safety actions. This training can be conducted virtually.

The guidance also provides details on conducting routine, daily health checks; planning for when an employee becomes sick; maintaining healthy operations; and when to consider closing because of an illness.

COVID-19 pandemic: Manufacturing workers focus of new OSHA safety alert

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Washington — A new OSHA safety alert lists measures employers in the manufacturing industry should take to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The alert calls on employers to encourage workers to stay home when sick, as well as report any safety or health concerns. The agency recommends limiting duration of work activities when physical distancing isn’t feasible. Move or reposition workstations to create more distance, or consider installing barriers (e.g., plexiglass shields) between workstations.

The alert states employers should “monitor public health communications about COVID-19 recommendations for the workplace and ensure that workers have access to and understand that information.” Workers should be educated on the proper ways to put on, take off, maintain and use/wear protective clothing and equipment.

Other tips:

  • Allow workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Discourage workers from using co-workers’ tools and equipment.
  • Use disinfectant products listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as effective against the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19.
  • Promote personal hygiene. If workers don’t have access to soap and water for handwashing, provide hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Provide disinfectants and disposable towels workers can use to clean work surfaces.

The alert is available in English and Spanish.

Gloves aren’t a substitute for handwashing, infection control experts say

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Arlington, VA — Think you’re safer wearing gloves during the COVID-19 pandemic? The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology wants you to know that protective vinyl, latex or nitrile gloves could become “more contaminated than bare hands” and “may actually be spreading germs in the community.”

In a recently published resource, APIC cautions that gloves may offer a false sense of security, and “are not a substitute for handwashing” nor a complete barrier to preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

APIC recommends washing hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer before and after wearing gloves. And whether you wear gloves or not, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to limit possible exposure to germs.

Nomination period opens for Safe-in-Sound award

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Photo: NIOSH

Washington — NIOSH, along with the National Hearing Conservation Association and the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation, is accepting nominations for the 2021 Safe-in-Sound Excellence in Hearing Loss Prevention Award.

The award recognizes organizations and professionals who implement effective practices or innovations that contribute to the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus on the job.

To submit a nomination, email a letter describing the initiatives and successes of a hearing loss prevention program to Safe-in-Sound Review Committee coordinator Scott Schneider at nominations@safeinsound.us. Nomination letters are due June 8. Self-nominations also are accepted.

Nominees will be notified and asked to complete an online application. All requisite documentation must be submitted by July 15. The winner will be recognized at NHCA’s next annual conference, scheduled for Feb. 11-13 in Albuquerque, NM.

COVID-19 pandemic: Most people uneasy about returning to work, survey finds

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Salt Lake City — Results of a recent survey show that 2 out of 3 people aren’t comfortable about going back to their workplace as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers – a finding that spans all generations of workers.

Software company Qualtrics on April 27-28 sampled more than 2,000 people in the United States about how confident they felt about returning to their workplace or visiting public establishments, and what it would take for them to feel comfortable doing so.

From baby boomers to Generation Z, more than 65% of respondents in each age group reported being wary about returning. Overall, the respondents were almost evenly split on whether “things will get back to normal,” with 52% answering yes and 48% saying no. Around 1 out of 4 respondents expected to return to work in May, 28% expected to return in June, and 31% expected to return in August or later.

Other findings:

  • 69% of the respondents trust their employer to make the best decision on when they should return to work.
  • 74% want their work facility to be thoroughly and regularly cleaned and disinfected.
  • 63% want assurance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it’s OK to return.
  • 62% want employers to set strict policies on who can come into the workplace (e.g., barring anyone who is sick or has recently traveled).
  • 57% want facemasks to be made available.
  • More than 60% want the options to maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet at work and wear a mask.

“While most organizations are looking at facts like hospitalization and testing rates as they reopen workplaces and businesses, it is equally important to understand perceptions – how people feel,” Mike Maughan, head of global insights at Qualtrics, said in a May 5 press release. “Our study found that most Americans still feel uncomfortable returning to public spaces. Organizations will need to know what actions they can take to help customers and employees feel confident during this next phase of the pandemic.”

On April 23, the National Safety Council launched SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns, a comprehensive, multi-faceted effort to guide employers through the process of safely resuming traditional work and operations in a post-COVID-19 environment.

Study shows better airflow, more natural light can reduce spread of COVID-19 at work

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Davis, CA — Opening windows and blinds to improve airflow and increase natural light are some of the simple steps employers, building managers and workers can take to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in offices and other workplaces, according to a recent research review.

Using previous studies on microbes and common pathogen exchange pathways in buildings with known information about SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – researchers at the University of California, Davis and the University Oregon looked for ways to reduce potential transmission.

By opening windows, the rate of air flow can dilute virus particles indoors, an April 10 UC Davis press release states. The downside is that high amounts of air flow also can push particles back into the air and cause more energy use.

Although more research is needed on the impact of sunlight on the virus, the researchers note that “daylight exists as a free, widely available resource to building occupants with little downside to its use and many documented positive human health benefits.”

Further, maintaining a high relative humidity indoors can help because virus particles “like drier air.” High humidity also increases the size of virus particles, “meaning they settle out more quickly and don’t travel as far.”

Increased handwashing and regular cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces – where viral particles can survive for a few hours to a few days – are important practices in all workplaces. Workers responsible for cleaning and disinfecting workspaces can find a sortable, searchable and printable list of Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectants for use against the virus.

The study was published online April 7 in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal mSystems.

COVID-19 pandemic: Construction workers subject of new OSHA alert

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Washington — Aimed at protecting construction workers from exposure to COVID-19, a new OSHA safety alert lists measures employers should take during the pandemic.

Released April 21, the alert calls on employers to encourage workers to report any safety or health concerns and stay home when sick. Additionally, the agency recommends that in-person meetings, including toolbox talks and safety meetings, be kept as short as possible. Organizations should limit the number of workers in attendance and make sure they remain at least 6 feet apart from each other at all times.

Employers also should ensure alcohol-based wipes are used to clean tools and equipment – especially those that are shared – before and after use. Workers tasked with cleaning should consult manufacturer recommendations for proper use and any restrictions.

Physical distancing protocol should be followed inside work trailers or when visitors are onsite, and physical contact should be avoided.

Organizations are advised to clean and disinfect jobsite toilets on a regular basis, and ensure hand-sanitizer dispensers are filled. Any other frequently touched items such as door pulls should be cleaned and disinfected.

Other recommendations:

  • Educate workers on the proper way to put on, take off, maintain and use/wear protective clothing and equipment.
  • Allow workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Use cleaning products listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as effective against the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19.
  • Promote personal hygiene. If workers don’t have access to soap and water for handwashing, provide hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol.
  • Continue to use “normal control measures,” including personal protective equipment, to safeguard workers from other job hazards associated with construction activities.

The alert is available in English and Spanish.

Study links printer toner exposure to genetic changes

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Morgantown, WV — Nanoparticles from printer toner emissions can cause “very significant” changes to workers’ genetic and metabolic profiles, results of a recent study led by a researcher from West Virginia University show.

Nancy Lan Guo, a WVU assistant professor of community medicine, and her colleagues placed rats into a chamber with a common laser printer for five hours a day over a 21-day period while the printer ran nonstop – “equivalent to an occupational setting.” The rats were assessed every four days for changes to cardiovascular, neurological and metabolic function.

A single day of toner-particle exposure was enough to disturb the activity of genes associated with metabolism, immune response and other essential biological processes in the rats. Additionally, the rats showed adverse effects in the lungs and blood at every observed time point.

“The changes are very significant from Day One,” Guo said in a Feb. 27 press release.

In work areas where laser printers are heavily used, Guo recommends implementing special ventilation and exposure controls to protect workers, particularly pregnant women, from exposure. “Because once a lot of these genes are changed, they get passed on through the generations,” Guo said. “It’s not just you.”

The study was published online Dec. 16 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

COVID-19 pandemic: CDC issues interim cleaning, disinfection recommendations after exposure

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Washington — In light of emerging data on the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released interim environmental cleaning and disinfection recommendations for community facilities with suspected or confirmed cases of the potentially deadly respiratory illness.

The guidelines – aimed at limiting the spread of the disease – are focused on community, non-health care facilities such as schools, institutions of higher education, offices, day care facilities, businesses, and community centers that “do, and do not, house persons overnight.”

SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – can be stable for several hours to even days on various surfaces, results of a study that involved CDC researchers and was published online March 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine show.

“Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces, followed by disinfection, is the best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in community settings,” CDC states on its Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities webpage, which the agency intends to update as more data is made available.

Cleaning should entail using a detergent or soap and water before disinfecting. Diluted household bleach solutions, solutions with at least 70% alcohol or other Environmental Protection Agency-registered household disinfectants are recommended.

CDC also provides information on how to clean soft or porous surfaces. In addition, personal protective equipment, such as disposable gloves and gowns, should be worn by cleaning staff, who are encouraged to wash their hands frequently.

Employers should provide education on COVID-19 to workers performing duties such as cleaning, laundry and garbage pickup.

“These guidelines are not meant for cleaning staff in health care facilities or repatriation sites, households, or for others for whom specific guidance already exists,” CDC states.