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The Risk Series: Identifying Risk in Returning to Work

Thursday, September 03, 2020



You may have just gotten the okay to come back to your physical workspace after a long stint working from home. You are probably excited to come back, but before you set foot in the building, you need to understand that business will not go back to normal immediately, nor should it. There will be new rules and different workspace setups. If your employer has implemented the recommended precautions against COVID-19 at your workplace, you should be relatively safe. However, employees must do their part to continue safe practices in the office. Here are a few things to remember before you begin working at your office: post-Coronavirus.

Firstly, realize that a lot of the amenities and conveniences you were used to may need to be restricted at this point in time. As much as we hate to say it, this includes the coffee bar. The coffee area has always been a reliable refuge from that notorious two o’clock energy slump, but it now presents a high risk for infection. As this is a high traffic area, many people are coming into contact with coffee pot handles, cups, and other coffee-related accoutrements. If your workplace still allows the coffee bar to be used, take steps to make it as safe as possible for you and your coworkers. You can do this by keeping what you come in contact with to a minimum, cleaning the handles and buttons to the coffeepot with an antibacterial wipe after you touch them, and frequently running a dish washer to sanitize dirty dishes. Alternatively, you can bring your own mug, plate, and utensils to ensure that no cross contamination takes place. Implementing an individual-serving coffee maker will also limit contamination if your office has not already done so.

Another area of concern should be the break room. In ordinary times, break rooms allowed coworkers to bond while eating together. They are communal, and as such, foster a great deal of community engagement and workplace friendships. As much as it sucks to leave this routine behind, it might be a while before this practice is advisable again. Since wearing a mask is impossible while eating, employees let their guards down and put themselves in danger of infection; Dr. Ralph Gonzales of UCSF states that this is where a lot of transmission in the workplace is occurring.[1] Your office can limit the spread of COVID-19 by limiting how the break room is used. Facilities Managers should make it known that sitting across from one another during lunch is not a safe enough distance without masks. One of the best efforts management can do for the safety of the break room is to pull out extra seating before it becomes a problem. If tables and chairs are arranged so that people are naturally distanced from each other, the probability of contracting the virus is reduced. The same practice should be implemented in all collaborative spaces as well, like conference rooms and open space concepts.

Your employer may be doing its best to protect the health and safety of its employees, but it is up to the individuals in your office to comply with the new rules and keep risk of infection to a minimum.

Keep an eye out for next month’s edition in The Risk Series, when we talk about how to limit physical dangers in your workspace.



[1] https://abc7news.com/coronavirus-tranmission-break-room-ucsf-doctors-warning/6356951/