A resource for businesses
The Path Forward
In March 2020, we established this dedicated hub as a business resource for our customers to help them manage day-to-day operations when navigating the growing risks associated with COVID-19. As the pandemic and responses to it evolve, we continue to provide content and resources here.
- How will COVID-19 developments impact and define the challenges ahead?
- How do businesses and their employees best move forward and adapt to the COVID-19 workplace?
- How do all of us participate in building a safer, more resilient future?
Business travel has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many companies are resuming the practice. Here are some travel safety tips to consider.
Employer focus on mental wellness can help smooth transitions back to offices, retail businesses and other workplaces following COVID shutdowns.
Lessons and resources to help companies remain open during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We share ideas you can implement to build resilience.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and new surges resulting from variants of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus1 underscore the challenges in embracing the practice of well-documented preventative measures. The transmission of the virus in 2021, due to reopening and relaxation of 2020 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) countermeasures, combined with ongoing COVID fatigue2 and reported pockets of low vaccination rates around the country due to vaccine hesitancy,3,4 continues to provide fertile ground for increased infection rates.
As the reopening of the broader economy continues to be delayed due to surges of the virus,5 there has been a call for mandatory vaccinations in certain business sectors.
Businesses planning to reopen in the coming months can take steps to help mitigate the impact of these challenges, with the primary goals being to help prevent the spread of the virus and remain as viable enterprises in which employees can remain healthy and productive — and the business profitable.
How companies can adapt to the COVID-19 challenge
Over the past 18 months, our understanding of what strategies can reduce the risk of viral spread in the workplace and our communities has been significantly strengthened.
Proven methods such as hand-hygiene, wearing proper face masks, staff health screenings, physical distancing, symptom recognition and observance of strict quarantining practices; as well as a robust cleaning, disinfection and contact tracing procedures in the workplace, continue to be promoted by the CDC and have been codified by federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plans to ensure safe and healthful workplaces.5
These steps have aided businesses in building greater resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as building systems and practices for the inevitable future outbreaks in coming years.
Here are some suggestions for businesses as they continue to adapt and adjust to the potential risks and challenges of COVID-19:
Because fever, defined as 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38.0 degrees Celsius) or higher, is one of the three most common symptoms of COVID-19 (along with coughing and shortness of breath, according to the CDC6), temperature screenings have been an effective method to help prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace. Businesses conducting staff temperature checks as employees arrive for work should do so in a manner that preserves employee privacy (individually in a private space, when possible) and at the same time observes physical distancing.
Personnel conducting temperature checks should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) specific to exposure to COVID-19 — gowns, gloves and face masks — and should have the requisite knowledge to both conduct the checks and accurately assess the results.
Employees who appear to have symptoms upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers and visitors, and sent home.
When an employee’s temperature is found to be elevated, it should be treated as confidential employee medical information and remain protected while employers act on that information to protect the health and safety of others in the workplace. It may be prudent to keep documentation of the actual temperature readings for any employees who are sent home due to a high temperature.
Find more tips from Zurich in the article, “Tips for Companies That Perform Employee Temperature Checks.”
Physical distancing and masking continue to be encouraged given the evolving nature of variants — even vaccinated persons can be asymptomatic (unknowing) carriers of the variants.7
Even with the current relaxation of physical distancing practices in some regions of the country, consider consulting with local health agencies and your federal/state OSHA consultation units for their guidance (due to the fluid nature of the pandemic).
Revisit your facility’s workstation layout to provide the requisite distance between staff where possible.
Stagger shifts and/or reduce occupancy to a percentage of the workforce to facilitate worker health and avoid congregant settings to ensure employees can maintain enough distance from one another (under the guidance of local health departments).
Arrange food-service offerings to prevent lines and cross-contamination. Use disposable utensils, cups and plates temporarily. Arrange for touchless water dispensers (in eating and restroom areas).
Convert any payment or point-of-service systems to accept wireless payment options and refuse cash payments temporarily, if possible.
Wearing face coverings, face masks or respiratory protection remains an effective method of controlling virus spread. Guidance may vary based on the level of exposure of each workplace via community spread, the number of cases of COVID-19 in the workplace, and/or the exposure level employees face regarding COVID-19.8 But the CDC still recommends, as of August 2021,9 that people who are not fully vaccinated and two years old or older, wear a mask in indoor public places.
In general, a mask is not required in outdoor setters, although in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated. People with a medical condition or who take medications that weaken their immune system should wear a well-fitted mask until advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.
Fully vaccinated persons, in areas of substantial or high transmission, should consider wearing a mask indoors in public, including the workplace, to maximize personal protection from COVID-19 variants and prevent spread of variants to others. Wearing a mask over the nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation, along with airports and stations.
The addition of physical barriers in the workplace, such as sneeze guards, while effective in some scenarios, is not suitable in all. It’s critical to ensure barriers do not impede airflow, potentially increasing the accumulation of the virus in a given area.
Employers should continue to be vigilant in cleaning and disinfecting workstations between shifts following CDC advice.10 Though the coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes, it is possible for people to become infected if they touch a contaminated surface and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
Though routine cleaning should be appropriate for most areas of a facility, given the length of time the coronavirus can linger on certain surfaces, some commonly used items may require more frequent cleaning, as often as several times each day.
Find more tips from Zurich in the article, “Facility and Office Disinfection During the COVID-19 Crisis.”
With businesses reopening and school districts returning students to in-person instruction, the focus on non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) has been expanded to include heavier reliance on ventilation to maintain good indoor air quality (IAQ).11 The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers’ (ASHRAE) building readiness response plans for building reopening provide best-in-class industry guidance beginning with use of certified contractors for testing and analysis of your system to aid in state-of-the art mitigation strategies to reduce transmission.
The CDC, your state department of public health,12 OSHA and industry associations like ASHRAE should be consulted on what the minimum requirements are for your particular occupancy (e.g., the cfm/person rating). However, the agencies’ focus continues to be on increasing ventilation of indoor spaces referred to as clean air delivery rates (CADR), improved filtration (e.g., use of high-efficiency filtration like MERV filters) and the use of air-cleaning devices like ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) technologies.13
Avoid having employees use their vehicles to make deliveries unless they are subject to a formal driver selection program with motor vehicle record checks, vehicle review process and distracted driving program.14 Continue to reinforce physical distancing for deliveries with your customers to protect your drivers and their receiving staff.
As travel to regions of the U.S. and countries abroad with high rates of infection continues to engender a high risk of infection for employees, companies should consult the from the CDC and continue to evaluate whether such travel is necessary. Can business objectives be achieved using remote collaboration?
If travel is necessary, managers should educate employees about the enhanced precautions suggested by the CDC, and have employees consult their physician regarding appropriate vaccinations and health concerns before the trip. Travelers should practice enhanced precautions before, during and after the trip, avoid public transit or crowded areas when possible to prevent close contact with potentially ill people and work remotely for up to 14 days upon return from a trip.
Find more tips from Zurich in the article, “COVID Business Travel: How You Can Help Keep Employees and Others Safe.”
As businesses across the country begin to transition employees back to something approaching pre-COVID-19 normalcy, contact tracing in the workplace, in collaboration with local public health agencies, will become a priority for helping reduce the impact of the coronavirus on people and operations. Contact tracing is the process of reaching out to every person with whom an infected individual may have had contact during his or her period of contagion.
In a corporate setting, a contact tracer — most likely a designated individual in a Human Resources or Occupational Health and Safety role — will utilize a telephone script to discern where the person has been and with whom he or she may have had close contact while on the job. What meetings did they attend? With whom do they eat lunch? Who worked in proximity to the positive case on, say, a production line or in a retail setting?
Once those individuals have been identified, the contact tracer will go farther down the line, notifying potentially affected coworkers in confidentiality that they may have been exposed, advising them to quarantine for a specified period of time (usually 14 days) and recommending a COVID-19 test.
Keep lines of communication open
Continue to communicate regularly with employees15 about the company, preventative steps being taken, and the overall outlook — especially if your region surges with infections. Employees may begin to feel isolated as the pandemic stretches on, so periodic communication from leadership and their direct management is important to reassure them and facilitate good mental health and well-being.
Encourage employees to interact using technology to work together on company business. Remind employees about access to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Social distancing in and out of the workplace may lead to household strife, increased stress, and, potentially, depression. Your EAP can arrange proper resources for employees to get help when needed.
Provide helpful guidance when available from legitimate federal, state and local public health websites on “household tips” to follow during pandemics and nationwide emergencies.16
Taking steps to prevent the spread of disease is good citizenship, but businesses may experience disruption as a result. Companies, though, can take action to help mitigate the impact of these temporary social changes while supporting their employees and community.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Delta variant. What we know about the science.” 26 August 2021.
2. Zhao, Jun, et al. “Quarantine fatigue: First-ever decrease in social distancing measures after the COVID-19 outbreak before reopening United States.” arXiv.org. Cornell University. 11 June 2020.
3. Dubé, Eve and Noni E. MacDonald. “How can a global pandemic affect vaccine hesitancy?” Expert Review of Vaccines. 05 October 2020.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.” 2021.
5. Cutter, C. “Office Reopenings Pushed Back to Later Part of 2021.” “Dow Jones & Company. 12 February 2021.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 8 March 2021.
7. Grant, Alastair and Paul R. Hunter. “Immunization, asymptomatic infection, herd immunity and the new variants of COVID-19.” MedRxiv. 20 January 2021.
8. Occupational Health and Safety Administration. “” OSHA 3990-03. 2020.
9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “.” 12 August 2021.
10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cleaning and disinfecting your facility.” 15 June 2021.
11. D'Ambrosio, Amanda. “Droplets vs Aerosols: What's More Important in COVID-19 Spread?” MedPage Today. 13 May 2021
12. California Department of Public Health. (2021). “Indoor Air Quality Section: Aerosol Transmission and Airborne Diseases.” 26 August 2021.
13. American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers. “ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force: Building Readiness.” 27 April 2021.
14. Fleet Program Toolkit. Zurich North America Risk Services. January 2018.
15. Galea, Sandro , Raina M. Merchant and Nicole Lurie. “The Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19 and Physical Distancing: The Need for Prevention and Early Intervention.” JAMA Internal Medicine. 10 April 2020.
16. United States Department of Labor. “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.” 10 June 2021.
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