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Is Your Business’ COVID-19 Preparedness Plan Good Enough?

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Alexander J. Thibodeau
Foster Swift Municipal Law News
June 1, 2020

HandwashingDue to the issuance of Executive Order 2020-110 on June 1, 2020, this article has since been updated with new information.

Since the widespread outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in March, Governor Whitmer has issued 112 Executive Orders (and rising) in an attempt to respond to, and prevent further spread of COVID-19. On March 23, Governor Whitmer signed Michigan’s first stay-at-home order, which required many businesses to temporarily close or significantly reduce operations. Subsequent Executive Orders (2020-42 & 2020-59) have extended, modified, and clarified the requirements of the stay-at-home order and provided guidance for businesses still permitted to operate. Executive Order 2020-70 and 2020-77 sought to lighten the restrictions imposed on operating businesses and slowly reopen certain industries. As more businesses were allowed to operate, the Governor began requiring each business to have a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan (“Plan”). Even with the stay-at-home order lifted, Executive Order 2020-97 requires each business to develop and implement a Plan within two weeks of resuming operations. This article will discuss what should be included in such a Plan to ensure that your business or local government is adequately prepared.

Although not much guidance is provided in the orders themselves, it is clear that a Plan must be consistent with recommendations from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), provided in their publication “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” and must be made available at the company’s headquarters or at the worksite. The guidance OSHA offers varies depending on the amount of risk involved in the work being conducted and, accordingly, higher risk businesses should consult the OSHA guidance independently.

Step 1: Understanding COVID-19

The most basic consideration in adopting a Plan is keeping up with the ever-changing information on how best to combat the spread of the virus. Because the virus is new, the scientific community is reworking its understanding in real time with new updates occurring every day. Although it can undoubtedly be frustrating, staying up-to-date with the current guidance provided by reliable sources like the World Health Organization (“WHO”) or the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) is the best way to stay informed. Actively seeking updates or new information should be a daily exercise for your business or local government’s leadership, particularly from local or regional health authorities that can offer guidance for your community or sources like the WHO and CDC which may offer guidance in a broader context.

Similarly, knowing the symptoms of COVID-19 and readily identifying infected employees can make the difference between a single employee and your entire workforce being ill. Encouraging employees who have symptoms, or who live with someone who has symptoms, to self-identify and self-isolate is crucial to being able to effectively manage the virus if it infiltrates your employees and/or their families.

In another sense, understanding how the virus spreads and reducing proximity and contact of your employees is a necessary preventative step. Identifying which workers might be most vulnerable, which segments of your customer-base may be most at-risk and which parts of your business require the most protection is a consideration at the core of your Plan. Implementing daily no-contact temperature checks and a daily signed statement affirming that no symptoms are currently being experienced is a good way to limit accidental exposures.

Step 2: Implement Basic Hygiene Policy

Once you have all the information, your first barrier to the virus is basic hygiene. Your Plan should promote frequent and thorough hand washing for every person entering your place-of-business, including employees to visitors to delivery services. Signs in the bathroom may be a good reminder, but a mandatory policy for all regular employees should be implemented to make handwashing a requirement throughout the day, not only after using the bathroom. CDC guidance has shown that hand washing with soap is the best way to kill the virus, but in the event soap and water are unavailable (e.g. construction sites, utility repair workers) hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol should be readily available and frequently used.

Hygiene extends beyond the humans involved in your business. Frequent and thorough workspace sanitation and housekeeping practices should be implemented as a part of your Plan. It may also make sense to reconsider the products being used for cleaning to ensure that they comply with the guidance provided by OSHA. A full sanitizing cleaning is recommended on a daily basis and cleaning of individual spaces should be done more frequently for heavily used or high-traffic spaces.

Step 3: Limit Cross-Contact and Implement Social Distancing

Even while larger office items like phones, computers, or desk spaces should be regularly cleaned, any shared item that encounters the outside public should be made single-use or sanitized after each use to the extent possible. Things like pens, silverware, or common supplies should be factored into your Plan to ensure single-contact between sanitization.

The CDC and OSHA have recommended maintaining a six (6) foot distance between all people, particularly indoors. Your Plan should include a floor plan of your business to determine how to best organize your space to allow for social distancing. Tape may be used as visual markers to give employees and members of the public guidance on how to effectively social distance. However, your Plan should implement a systemic approach to social distancing for regular employees to redesign workspaces to accommodate social distance.

Implementing barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards, temporarily removing shared amenities (coffee, snacks) and modifying workflow to reduce congestion in certain areas are necessary considerations in an effective Plan.

Step 4: Provide face masks or other coverings to limit respiratory transfers

Your Plan should provide a disposable mask or face covering to all employees that come into any confined space with others during the course of their job. However, in the event that disposable masks are unavailable due to market conditions, repeat use masks should be required and a system for washing the masks after each work day should be implemented into the Plan.

If you have questions or concerns about whether your COVID-19 preparedness and response plan meets the OSHA guidelines, feel free to reach out to a Foster Swift attorney in the Municipal and Administrative Law Practice Group.

While the information in this article is accurate at time of publication, the laws and regulations surrounding COVID-19 are constantly evolving. Please consult your attorney or advisor to make sure you have the most up to date information before taking any action.