Employee Safety: Four Guidelines for Returning to the Office

by / ⠀Career Advice Entrepreneurship / August 11, 2021
Employee safety is topping everyone's list of concerns as businesses do whatever they can to return our work lives to any sense of normalcy.

These days, employee safety is on everyone’s mind. In many ways, the global COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered the way office employees performed their duties.

In response to shelter-in-place orders, many workers found themselves suddenly working remotely. Many began completing their work tasks using their home computers. This was initially a challenge for many. However, as time passed and the months steadily ticked by, remote work slowly became their “new normal.”

Not only did employees accept this change, many eventually grew to embrace it. For many, it was a difficult period of adjustment, but one they recognized as necessary to help ensure the safety of their colleagues and loved ones. Now, with the economy beginning to open back up, more and more employers are requiring their workers to return to the office.

Meeting Employee Concerns and Resistance Head-On

Because of this latest transition, a new upheaval is underway. Some are responding with both confusion and even traces of hostility. These very same employees, who had grown accustomed to their remote workstations, found themselves no longer permitted to work remotely. Many full-time, on-site workers have returned to their brick-and-mortar locations. Others are continuing on as hybrid workers. Despite initial reluctance, many soon recognized the value of being back in the workplace.

Even though this transition was inevitable, employees weren’t the only ones who were experiencing hesitation about returning to the workplace. Many small business owners, CEOs, and office managers also needed to adapt to this change. This proved especially true when they recognized that many were resistant or even unwilling to return to the workplace.

Fortunately, with the majority of American workers having received their vaccine, the risk of infection has been reduced. One employee safety question that remains is what tools are employers using to help make the transition go more smoothly? Listed below are four things to keep in mind.

1. Hazard Assessment Training

Trying to navigate the uncertain territory of returning back to work can raise a significant number of employee safety questions from staff. For example, what safeguards have been put into place to keep them out of harm’s way? They may also be curious as to what responsibilities they have as well. By introducing them to the principles of hazard assessment training when resuming their on-site duties, as recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), you can help answer these questions.

While it may seem rudimentary, it would be wise to remind your team about correct hygiene practices.

Start with the expectation of properly washing hands. Enforce social distancing. Make sure staff are aware of these protocols. These have been demonstrated to minimize the danger of spreading the illness. Have measures in place to determine who might be ill. Checking temperatures upon arrival to work might be beneficial. Exposed employees should voluntarily undergo a mandatory quarantine period. Following this protocol can help keep other employees safe. Despite seeming obvious, mandatory training and review sessions can help prevent potential widespread infection.

2. Proper Use of Personal Protective Equipment

Even though your team may know how to correctly use personal protective equipment (PPE), it wouldn’t hurt to take the time to remind them about best practices to help ensure their safety. For example, there is still much confusion as to what might be the best face covering. Many remain unclear as to whether a face shield should fully cover the nose and mouth.

Others might have questions about the importance of using gloves, especially if they will be following other hygiene procedures. Have plastic barriers and shields in place. Adequate signage can also help dispel any confusion about the correct use of PPE.

3. Appropriate Workplace Behavior

One of the more unexpected side effects of having employees work from home was the lack of socialization. Changes in routine, combined with a lack of human interaction, are negatively impacting how people relate to one another.

While most studies have focused primarily on youth and young adults, there is no question that the rest of the population has also been affected by social distancing guidelines. We have yet to learn the extent of that impact, but there is already strong evidence of poor adjustment among many.

Because of this, it’s especially imperative that employers take time to remind staff as to how they should present themselves while at the workplace. The lifting of safety measures doesn’t change the fact that all of your staff have the right to feel safe and free from harassment while working on-site. To prevent staff from making vulgar or inappropriate remarks to coworkers and barring them from asking probing and personal questions about how others spent their quarantine, online harassment training for employees is likely to prove critical during the transition back to the office.

4. Recognizing and Reaffirming Employee Rights

Finally, it’s vital you take time to remind staff of their employee safety rights upon their return to the workplace.

Many workers feel anxious. They fear being treated poorly. Many have concerns about being marginalized for their race, creed, religion, political affiliation, or other beliefs. Others may feel trepidation about reporting unsafe behaviors. They may be afraid that they will experience retaliation if they speak to HR about other staff not following protocols. For all employees, reassuring them about their rights can go a long way toward fostering a safe and friendly work environment.

Employee Safety Issues Provide an Opportunity to Earn Loyalty

Returning to the workplace is likely to be fraught with uncertainty. Given what we’ve all been through, we should expect this. As an employer or manager, it’s on you to help ensure this transition goes smoothly. Taking the time to properly train your staff and carefully enforcing any protocols you’ve put in place can minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and employee dissatisfaction.

Many employees may be recalcitrant about returning. Your job is to provide them with the tools they need to make it as comfortable as possible. These efforts can go a long way toward demonstrating your commitment to their well-being. It’s best to look at employee safety concerns as an opportunity to earn loyalty both now and long after their pandemic fears have been assuaged.

About The Author

Becca Williams

Becca Williams is the editor of SmallBizTechnology.com.