Over the past month, you have most likely come up with more questions than answers, you’ve accumulated more worries than you’ve ever had before, and are trying to keep yourself and your team afloat, like so many others across the world.
In addition, you’ve probably used phrases that you’d never thought you’d have to say to your adult employees. Things like, “tell your manager if you are running a fever or have a cough; properly wash your hands and disinfect your area multiple times a day; and keep a six-foot distance from your co-workers.” If these steps aren’t followed by your employees, there could be significant repercussions for your team and your manufacturing plant.
As a manager, executive, or owner within a manufacturing facility, a big concern right now is around cash flow and keeping your doors open. One of the most important factors that goes into this is the health of your employees and the questions around what to do if one of your employees tests positive for COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone that has tested positive.
One question the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech staff have repeatedly received is: “How can I afford to shut my plant down for 24 hours to disinfect the workspace?” The answer: “Wouldn’t it be worse if you didn’t shut down to disinfect and then a few weeks later half of your workforce goes down with COVID-19 and you have to shut down longer?”
Put differently: is the small cost at the front end worth the risk of the large price you may have pay on the back end if you don’t sanitize your space properly?
Jenny Houlroyd, senior research scientist with Georgia Tech’s Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) program, developed this guide with 10 steps to take if one of your employees tests positive for COVID-19:
- Once an employee has notified their manager that they’ve tested positive for COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control says the employee should no longer report to work. The employee should then remain in isolation until at least seven days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test and they have no subsequent illness, followed by seven additional days of quarantine. Employees must follow the direction of their medical providers and/or local health authorities on when to discontinue home isolation. Employees should not return to work until they have tested negative for the virus. If one of your employees comes to you and says they have not tested positive, but have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, that employee should self-quarantine for the 14-day recommendation.
- Evacuate and close off the area(s) used by the employee who tested positive for COVID-19. In addition to just shutting down the area that the infected employee worked in, you will need to have a broader understanding of the areas within your facility that they’ve walked through and the shared spaces, such as a break room or rest room that they have been in, and close down those areas as well.
- Notify all employees who have been in contact with the positive case so that they can self-monitor. In the case of the workplace, “been in contact” is defined as ALL employees in your plant (regardless of shift), since you cannot say for certain which other employees the infected employee has passed in the hall or been in the break-room with. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to alert your team, but due to privacy laws, you may not let others know who on the team tested positive, just that there was a positive case reported.
- Allow for employees in direct contact of the positive case to self-quarantine for 14 days. In the case of the workplace, “direct contact” is defined as people that work within six feet of the infected individual and those who share common work-spaces.
Examples to differentiate between points three and four include:
- A person in shipping and receiving tests positive for COVID-19:
- “Been in contact” is everyone within your manufacturing facility
- “Direct contact” is everyone that works or has been in the shipping and receiving department and/or came in contact with in a communal area of the plant (example – had lunch or coffee with the person)
- A person on a manufacturing line tests positive for COVID-19:
- “Been in contact” is everyone within your manufacturing facility
- “Direct contact” is everyone that works in close proximity to that person on the line or the leaders/others that have gathered the team on the line to discuss the day’s work, or and/or came in contact with in a communal area of the plant (example – had lunch or coffee with the person)
- Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the affected area. Doing this will create an unstable environment for the virus to persist, meaning that the change in temperature or the breeze now coming in through the open windows will help flush out any potential virus in the air.
- Wait at least 24 hours before you clean or disinfect the compromised area(s). The virus lasts for three hours in the air hour before it breaks down and is no longer airborne, but there are differing opinions on how long the virus lasts on each type of surface. Our recommendation is to wait at least 24 hours before going into the affected area to disinfect it. However, the longer you wait to send others back in, the better the chances are that the virus will have dissipated on each different surface, thus making it safer for your employees. Follow the CDC guidelines on how to clean and disinfect an area. Information can be found at: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/cleaning-disinfection.html.
- Clean and disinfect all areas used by the person who is sick. Do not just clean their workspace(s). Clean areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment such as tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, and ATMs. Consult the Environmental Protection Agency’s registered list of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, which can be found at: epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2
- The only exception to the above additional cleaning and disinfection, is if it’s been more than seven days since their positive test that the infected employee visited or used the facility, additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary. If an employee notifies you that they’ve tested positive for COVID-19, but they hadn’t been in your facility for at least seven days, the virus most likely would have already expired on all surfaces.
- Continue routine cleaning and disinfection. Even if you don’t have any positive cases at your facility, it is still important to take preventative measures. Remember that although these same employees are social distancing, they are still around family members and have most likely been in some other public place such as a grocery store or hardware store. It’s important to educate your entire workforce on how to disinfect their workspace, as well as the facility being responsible for disinfecting common surfaces and wiping down common work areas such as break rooms, lunch rooms, and office areas, much more frequently than under normal circumstances.
- Determine if a positive COVID-19 case is work-related for compliance with OSHA 1904 Record keeping standards. If the infected person contracted the COVID-19 virus as a direct results of exposure on the job, then it would be considered work related and have to be recorded as an on the job work-related injury/illness. For more information visit: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/standards.html
As an employer, it is your employees’ responsibility to make sure they don’t come to work sick and that if they are exposed or test positive that they report it to you, their employer, as soon as possible. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to keep your employees separated, communicate regularly to your team, frequently sanitize your facility, and take appropriate and immediate action, should one of your team members test positive for COVID-19. Remember, shutting down for 24-hours to prevent further spread is a lot more cost-effective than having to shut down for weeks for an outbreak you could have prevented.
About the Georgia Tech Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) Program
Georgia Tech’s Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) program is comprised of safety and health professionals who are trained in pandemic preparedness and are experts in public health. We are committed to ensuring that manufacturing businesses in the state of Georgia get the assistance they need during this difficult time. Each meeting will cover how to develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan, strategies for business continuity, guidance on effective disinfection strategies for manufacturing plants, and recommended resources. The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech is partnering with SHES to provide free, virtual meetings with companies to discuss strategies to create and implement an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan.
To learn more about SHES’ safety and health consultation offering, please visit: ohainfo.gatech.edu/.
To request a virtual meeting, fill out this form: oshainfo.gatech.edu/virtual-compliance-assistance-form/.
By Katie Takacs, with the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership