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    June 15, 2020

    Close Contact Workplace Safety Activities & Social Distancing

    As they say in the theater, “The show must go on!"  If you think about it, keeping up with your safety program isn’t really any different, is it?  Maintaining your safety program and ensuring safety regulations are being followed are necessary to keep workers safe, regardless of what’s going on in the world.

    Contrary to popular belief, regulatory requirements for things like training and inspections weren’t relaxed just because we’re in a pandemic.  Meaning, everything that was required before the pandemic is still required.

    If you’re a bit stumped about how to manage these safety activities and still make sure your employees can practice social distancing, we’ve got a few suggestions that might help.

    Safety Training

    Making sure your workforce completes all the training required by OSHA regulations and your company policies is probably already pretty taxing, especially if you have a large workforce who work on multiple shifts. 

    If your company is like most, it’s probably a struggle to find enough space to provide training, find good content to use and to perform training without interfering with shifts or incurring too much overtime.  If that weren’t enough, now you’ve got to figure out how to conduct training AND practice social distancing! 

    To help you manage your training program, we’ve compiled the suggestions below.

    For first responder courses such as first aid, CPR & AED training, we suggest breaking up the training into two parts: online and practical skills assessment.  This allows the participants to forgo sitting in a group classroom environment.  For the skills or “practical” portion of the training, the skills tester can set up the room to observe the trainee’s skills while still maintaining the recommended six feet for social distancing.

    Organizations like the National Safety Council (NSC) offer a wide variety of training but their first aid responder training is especially good and can be completed in two parts consisting of an online classroom portion followed by in person skills testing.  The skills tester has the flexibility of scheduling the in person skills testing sessions largely however they want to which makes it easy to comply with social distancing guidelines.  The American Red Cross also offers training courses with an online component and an in person skills testing session. 

    For routine regulatory training such as lockout/tagout, hot work, confined spaces, etc., a good option is taking a play from the first responder training playbook and using an online option coupled with a hands on portion (where required). 

    Before you dismiss the idea of online training because you think it’s going to be too expensive or require a lot of additional computer equipment, consider the amount of overtime you’re probably already paying to bring your workforce into a conference room every month to conduct regulatory training. 

    If your company has employees working on various shifts, bringing an entire shift of employees in early or having them stay late affects two shifts—the one taking the training and the one staying late to accommodate the shift being trained.  In the long run, online training might be more cost effective and it might reduce the impact to production as well. 

    If you’re looking for a wide variety of available online titles, look no further than EHS Insight’s online training library which offers online training courses for the construction industry, general safety and human resources related courses, HAZWOPER training, laboratory training courses and various other regulatory compliance courses. 

    If you’re not keen on buying online training courses but still want to add training that can be conducted online, you might consider looking at the various different software programs that will allow you to take your current training material and turn it into interactive training which can be completed online. 

    Two such products to look into are Adobe Captivate and iSpring.  Both offer relatively inexpensive products that with a little effort, can turn your current PowerPoint training presentations into interactive modules complete with quizzes and the ability to narrate the training if desired. 

    Last but not least, if you’re just not able to purchase online courses or buy EHS software to help create online training courses, you’re not out of luck!  If you have to conduct all of your training in person, especially if you’re living in a state which is limiting group sizes to 10 or fewer, a few suggestions are:

    • If the problem is not enough space for everyone to have six feet of space, consider renting a hotel conference room and providing multiple topics in one day.
    • Break teams up into smaller groups and conduct additional courses throughout the month.
    • Review who is taking each course and limit courses to only those who are required to attend which will reduce classroom size.
    • Hold the training virtually through Zoom or some other virtual meeting app.

    Whatever you do, you don’t want to skip training because the message that sends is that training takes a back seat to other things. 

    Safety Inspections

    Another requirement that many employers must meet is conducting inspections, some of which require employees to be in somewhat close contact, like annual lockout inspections.  These kinds of inspections are especially important because they verify that lockout procedures are still valid and that the employees using them are doing so properly, so conducting them on schedule is really important.

    Typically these inspections are conducted by visiting a piece of equipment or machinery that is going to be serviced and making sure the procedure effectively controls hazardous energy and that the employees performing the work are clear about their responsibilities.  However, it can be difficult to do this and maintain six feet of space between employees. 

    The best way to handle this type of inspection is for the inspector to print out the lockout procedure ahead of time, go to the equipment prior to the work starting and review the procedure in place to make sure it’s the most recent version and then while maintaining as much distance as possible, verify compliance with the procedure while the work is being performed and make sure the employees understand their roles.  If there are deviations found, the work should be interrupted and the employees should be coached while doing your best to maintain social distancing guidelines.

    Sometimes you may be faced with situations where you cannot maintain six feet of space between employees such as in confined space situations.  When these situations arise, the best you can do is to discuss the situation with the affected employees ahead of time, provide them with necessary PPE, like N95 masks and enforce hand washing immediately after the task has concluded.

    Final Thoughts

    It’s important to remember that for many states, social distancing guidelines are encouraged but aren’t mandatory.  If you live and work in a state where this is the case, it’s important to remember that while you might not think it’s necessary to stay six feet away from other employees, not all of your workers might feel the same way. 

    When you have workers who aren’t comfortable performing tasks that won’t allow them to maintain six feet of distance from their co-workers, even with PPE to reduce their exposure, the best thing you can do is to work with that employee to find a happy medium.  It may just be a matter of not fully understanding how COVID-19 is transferred and once the employee understands their risk, they may feel more comfortable with the task.  Whatever your situation, the key to ensuring a productive and safe environment is open and positive communication.

    If you find that you need further information specific to your industry, the best place to look would be on OSHA’s website where they’ve created an entire section just for safe work practices for specific industries like retail, manufacturing, construction and many others.

    Make sure to also check out our blog for more coronavirus resources, like this post on the importance of PPE during the pandemic. 

    Katy Lyden, MS, OHST

    Katy Lyden is a Domain Analyst and EHS Subject Matter Expert for StarTex Software, the company behind EHS Insight. Prior to her current role, Katy spent 17 years successfully leading EHS programs for several large companies within the manufacturing industry. Katy is a Navy veteran, retired Emergency Medical...