On May 4, 2020, Governor Jay Inslee signed the legislation in Washington State for the Safe Start Plan. This plan provides a phasing in approach for business reopening. Businesses will follow this plan while developing measures for health standards and social distancing complaint to state regulatory and public health recommendations.
Focusing on Social Distancing in the Workplace
The main feature of the Safe Start Plan focuses on social distancing. However, face masks must also be worn, and people must practice frequent hand washing, cleaning and sanitization, as all of these COVID-19 measures complement one another.
To support the Governor’s Safe Start Plan for reopening, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) created specific requirements to protect workers in a broad range of industries, including agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. The general safety and health requirements issued by the L&I apply to all business operations, including those businesses considered essential.
During the phasing in of business operations, all companies must adopt rules for employee and client safety that follow the guidelines set by the Governor’s office.
According to governmental Safe Start guidelines, all businesses have an obligation to maintain healthy and safe worksites in accordance with governmental mandates covering COVID-19 and the prevention of workplace hazards.
Four Phases in the Safe Start Plan
The Governor’s Safe Start Plan covers four phases, each of which will require the implementation of specific processes over approximately three weeks, or when a company meets noted Safe Start goals. While Phase 1 covers basic reopening activities, Phase II will follow Phase I objectives and include meeting the mandates set for
- Health care readiness
- Testing availability and capacity
- Contact investigation
- Protecting vulnerable populations
Phases III and IV are designed to be implemented when the goals for the other two phases are realized. All the phases will include the same preventative measures – measures that will support a gradual transition to healthier and safer workplace practices.
Compensating for Social Distancing
During Phase III, businesses must, again, focus on social distancing at six feet. If this practice cannot be followed, a business needs to do the following –
- Place barriers to prevent the gathering of too many people in one space;
- Minimize the number of people in one area; and
- Stagger lunches, breaks, and starting and ending times for shifts.
Creating a Written Safety and Mitigation Plan
What is vitally important during Phase 3 of Washington’s Safe Start Plan is that businesses create a written safety and mitigation plan that falls in line with L&I requirements. This plan does not need to be submitted to any governmental agency. It just needs to be written and made available in case an inspection is made by a state regulatory agency or public health department.
Businesses must continue to follow the state’s industry-specific guidelines during the Safe Start program. Each phase of the Safe Start Plan represents a milestone, with all milestones incorporated into one preventive initiative.
Specific Measures for Safe Distancing
To keep people working at safe distances, the following measures also need to be followed.
- Only one person can occupy a small room or space at a time unless more than one of the occupants is wearing a respirator, mask, or face covering.
- Occupancy must be maintained at under 50% of a room’s maximum capacity if more than one person inhabits a space.
- Social distancing markers must be posted using signs or tape, denoting a six-foot distance in spaces commonly used, such as time stations.
Masks and Face Coverings
Starting June 8, 2020, all businesses must provide cloth face coverings or health-compliant masks for employees, at no cost to them, with the following exceptions:
- Employees working by themselves in offices, inside a vehicle, or at a worksite.
- Employees who are deaf or hard of hearing, who use their faces to express themselves when communicating.
- Anyone who has a medical condition that would preclude them from wearing a face covering.
- Employees working in jobs where in-person interactions are not needed.
Unless an employee requires a higher level of protection under the L&I guidelines, face masks, at the minimum, must be worn. An employee may choose to wear his or her own face covering, as long as it adequately covers the nose and mouth, and is not soiled but regularly laundered or replaced.
Further Distancing Guidelines
To ensure employees meet further requirements for social distancing, businesses must do the following:
- Limit in-person gatherings, choosing instead to use video-conferencing or tele-conferencing.
- Hold in-person meetings in open and well-ventilated areas, with all participants following social distancing of at least six feet.
- Establish areas for deliveries and pick-ups, restricting contact as much as practical.
All the above measures and recommendations made by the Safe Start Plan must be incorporated into each company’s COVID-19 mitigation policy.
Formulating a Mitigation Plan
When formulating a mitigation plan, employers should consider the following:
- What measures should be implemented if employees cannot practice social distancing?
- How should social distancing be facilitated for visitors or customers?
- How will lunch breaks and shift changes be implemented?
Each business is different and therefore needs to answer the above questions to satisfy their operational requirements.
Scheduling Sanitizing and Cleaning
Also, it is important to establish a schedule that supports frequent sanitizing and cleaning, especially with respect to commonly touched surfaces. Hygiene and sanitation requirements must follow the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
Business owners must plan to whom to delegate scheduling and where the schedule will be posted and maintained.
Face Coverings and PPE
Other planning measures must answer the following –
- How many masks or face coverings will be needed to ensure an ongoing and sufficient supply of coverings for visitors and employees?
- How much PPE items will be required?
- Where will face coverings and PPE items come from?
Posting Warnings for Wearing Facial Coverings
Signs should be posted in clearly visible spots that indicate the need to wear facial coverings to both guests and employees. These signs should stress that face coverings should be replaced or cleaned when they become soiled and damaged. Also, masks should never be shared between or among employees.
Other Preventive Measures that Need to be Enforced
- Businesses also should implement a policy on cleaning, storing, and discarding PPE.
- The sharing of objects should be strictly limited, and trade-appropriate or medical gloves should be worn in frequently touched areas.
- Hands should be washed when putting on or taking off masks, or when hands are exposed to frequently touched surfaces.
Ensure Employees Follow Hand Washing and Hygiene Rules
Companies need to emphasize hand cleaning and the use of disposable gloves to prevent the transmission of the corona virus on shared items and tools. It is important to direct employees to the places where they can wash their hands and sanitize them, as needed.
Employers should place posters about hand hygiene up in the workplace, so employees are continually reminded to follow this practice. According to governmental guidelines, regular cleaning and disinfection should be done after each shift, or even more often, as required.
Part of your health and safety mitigation plan should include regular updates for staying safe and healthy from the impact of COVID-19.
In Washington, as in other U.S. states, employers need to customize a workplace safety and mitigation plan to protect staff and customers, and to adhere to the state’s COVID-19 reopening plans. That is why it is essential that Washington companies follow a four phase start-up protocol that follows the rules established by the Governor’s Office and Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Safety Services Company can provide a comprehensive Workplace Safety and Mitigation Plan that enables employees to follow a consistent program of prevention and care.
Subjects covered include defining and understanding COVID-19, best practices for hygiene, mitigating risk, and preventing the spread of the virus. Our mitigation plans are custom branded for your business and serve as both compliance documentation, and an effective visual training asset.