Protecting the Safety of Essential Service Workers — Occupational Health and Safety

Protecting the Safety of Essential Service Workers

We stand together in parting.

“We stand together by standing apart” lit up the billboard at the Paramount Theater in Massachusetts this week. American citizens are increasingly encouraged to practice social distancing in order to halt the rapid spread of COVID-19. Across the country, non-essential businesses are closing to further encourage Americans to stay home.

Washington is the latest state to require non-essential businesses to close, following Virginia, Maryland, New York, California, Pennsylvania and most other states. However, essential businesses are currently still open. Going to work at times like these presents significant health and safety risks. This article will identify workers classified as essential, as well as what your essential business can do to keep them safe.

Who is considered an essential service worker?

Our understanding of “non-essential” is simple: non-essential businesses include any organization that provides recreational products or services, such as cafes, bars, retail clothing stores, theaters, museums, sports venues , etc. However, the accepted definition of “essential” differs from state to state. The Department of Homeland Security defines an essential business as any organization necessary to continue services vital to the health and safety of the public. Thus, in most states, organizations deemed essential remain open. These include pharmacies, hospitals, grocery storesgarbage collection services, convenience stores, banks, gas stations, post offices, food processing and transportation services.

Protect the health and safety of your essential workers

Understandably, companies have expressed great concern that customers and visitors are exposing their employees to the virus and/or contaminating their workspace. One way to protect your staff is to implement visitor screening procedures. This is the norm in healthcare, but can (and should) be practiced in other essential organizations. Requiring visitors to register upon arrival and/or sign documents confirming their medical condition are two effective screening procedures that establish control over who enters your workplace.

Michelle J. Kelley