Following the “Stay Home-Work Safe” Order issued by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in coordination with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Greater Houston Partnership announced the launch of the “COVID-19 Houston Work Safe Company” program.
To comply with the Work Safe component of the order, companies that were permitted to continue their operations had to take steps to protect the health of their employees and minimize the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The “COVID-19 Houston Work Safe Company” program established 10 principles companies should follow to maintain safe on-site operations.
“Make no mistake, while many Houston companies may continue their operations, they cannot be working today like they were before the virus outbreak,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. “We must ensure our critical workplaces do not become transmission hot spots for the virus. This would have a dramatic impact on our healthcare system and leave our community vulnerable if essential companies’ operations are hampered.”
The original 10 principles were based on the established notions of social distancing, hygiene, and other policies meant to support a healthy and safe work environment during this critical time. Companies who adopted these principles were encouraged to publicly declare their pledge to do so.
Work Safe 2.0: Principles to Guide Reopen Houston Safely
On April 29, as the Houston region moved to reopen its economy, the Greater Houston Partnership introduced Work Safe 2.0 principles to help businesses develop plans to protect the health of their employees and customers by reducing the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
The partnership’s original list of 10 Work Safe principles was expanded to 15 to reflect evolving federal and state guidance, and this list either meets, exceeds or expands on that guidance.
Work Safe 2.0 Principles
- Allow all but essential on-site employees to work from home. While companies may maintain on-site workers to complete specific business tasks, employers should continue to allow all but those necessary employees to work remotely.
2. Create a safe work environment for all on-site employees.
• Create physical separation. Health officials advise that all individuals should remain at least six feet apart to avoid possible transmission. Employers should establish protocols that allow all on-site employees to maintain a distance of at least six feet while working.
• Close communal spaces. Where possible, employers should discontinue use of any communal spaces such as lunchrooms, breakrooms, meeting rooms and other gathering spaces to avoid unnecessary person-to-person exposure.
• Expand cleaning operations. Companies where workers must remain onsite should increase cleaning protocols of all high-touch and high-traffic areas throughout the day.
3. Require workers with COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms to stay home. To minimize exposure to other personnel, all workers who are experiencing even mild symptoms (principally fever, dry cough, sneezing) should avoid entering the workplace, report the situation to their supervisor and remain home.
• Companies should consider adjusting paid sick leave (PTO) policies. Employers should remove disincentives from people self-reporting illnesses. It is to a company’s advantage for sick employees to stay home.
4. Encourage proper hygiene. Employers should provide sufficient hand sanitizing stations, guidelines for proper hand washing and soap at all hand-washing stations to ensure proper hygiene at the workplace.
5. Apply industry best practices to reopening and expanding operations. National, state and local trade associations, along with leading companies in most business sectors, have developed robust sector-specific best practices to successfully and safely operate in this environment and have shared these resources online.
6. Employ virtual meeting technology. To avoid unnecessary exposure, employers should implement online video conferencing and other virtual meeting and messaging tools to conduct meetings. No one should feel the need to meet in person, even if they are in the same physical office.
7. Create alternate teams. Employers with on-site staff should create alternating teams (i.e. morning/afternoon shifts, day/evening, every other day) so that operations may continue if one team becomes exposed and is required to quarantine.
8. Restrict on-site access. Employee guests and other visitors should only be allowed access to any office or worksite when absolutely needed. For customer-oriented businesses, customers should be allowed access only provided they follow the safety protocols established by the business.
9. Discontinue work-related travel and require reporting of personal travel. Employers should limit travel by employees to other locations outside of the Houston region. If employees travel outside of the region for personal reasons, these trips should be reported to the employer to determine whether they pose an increased risk. Quarantine workers returning from high risk areas.
10. Eliminate crowding. Limit the number of customers or individuals allowed in the business or workplace at one time to allow for social distancing. If possible, utilize markings to ensure safe spacing at all times.
11. Decrease physical contact. Establish measures to limit interaction between employees and other employees and employees and customers. Utilize contactless solutions.
12. Require employees and customers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when possible. Face coverings should be worn by employees and customers, especially if it is difficult or impossible to maintain a 6-foot distance. Proper training on wearing and disposing of PPE should be provided to all employees, and the workplace should provide protective equipment for all employees unable to provide their own.
13. Develop health checks. Create a plan to train employees in responsible health checks using proper techniques and protocols. Utilize temperature checks to monitor the health of employees and send home employees who display symptoms. Employees who have a fever or display symptoms of COVID-19 or flu-like illness should not be allowed to work.
14. Deploy contact tracing protocols. Conduct workplace contact tracing in the event an employee tests positive and has been present at the worksite. Employers should consider the employee’s privacy and should only share information related to the fact others may have had direct contact with a positive case of COVID-19. These employees should be encouraged to self quarantine. Consider utilizing technologies that facilitate workplace contact tracing.
15. Establish anonymous reporting. To maintain a safe work environment for on-site employees and customers, companies should create an anonymous complaint channel for employees and customers to report unsafe practices or violations of protocol during this COVID-19 period.
The Greater Houston Partnership has developed a COVID-19 Houston Work Safe Company webpage with links to these principles, along with a toolkit with a Work Safe Company logo for use in the workplace and social media.
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