By Stephanie Stevens
Occupational health and safety professionals and UC San Diego Extension instructors Jeff Beeler and Harold Gribow are the experts people regularly go to for advice on how to stay safe at work and at home. However, with the rapid onset and spread of COVID-19, "staying safe" has taken on a whole new meaning. Beeler and Gribow share their thoughts on what's happening in the safety sector, as well as how to create a safer workplace during the era of COVID-19.
What are some of the changes that people need to consider related to COVID-19?
Beeler: I know that some people are very careful to follow the guidelines, and others don't believe the whole thing is real. As people go back to work, there will be many (asymptomatic) carriers of the virus. We don't have adequate testing yet. It's going to be an issue as the country goes back to work.
Even though we are still seeing a trend of increasing cases of COVID-19 and many deaths, we are slowly opening up businesses. Some organizations have developed well thought out policies and guidelines to protect workers as they return. Many other businesses are just concerned about making money again and not taking the safety aspect seriously. We have seen many examples on the news about bars and restaurants, factories, and other businesses crowding workers and customers in one place like it was before the virus hit.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has been very slow at responding to this pandemic and providing guidelines for the workplace. They just came out with policies that expect businesses to treat the virus as any other workplace safety issue and take proper steps to protect workers or suffer possible violations. They are going to be kicking up their enforcement efforts to assure compliance.
During the last recession, health and safety employment grew. Do you expect something similar post-coronavirus?
Beeler: It's hard to say because this is a very different situation. It's one thing to have hard financial times, like in the last recession, and for companies to tighten their belts a bit. It's another thing to have to shut down your business forever because you were closed for so long.
If the economy gets much worse, or the pandemic has multiple waves, it will be devastating to many businesses. As it is now, the companies are still going to need to stay safe and comply with regulations. However, many safety consultants I know are not working because the company they worked for has gone out of business.
Who is responsible for providing personal protective equipment in the workplace?
Gribow: Employers need to protect their workers per OSHA standards. If an employee feels like they're not getting the support that they need, they should feel empowered to talk with their employer, and, if there's no action taken, to contact OSHA directly.
What are the basic safety practices that businesses and individuals should follow to stay healthy?
Gribow: There are some variations depending on whether you're at home, in public, or what type of work you do. However, it's all there on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website:
Practice Good Hygiene
No handshakes or hugs – use other non-contact methods of greeting
Clean hands at the door and practice regular hand washing
Avoid touching our faces and cover coughs and sneezes
Disinfect often-touched surfaces like doorknobs, tables, desks, and handrails regularly
Increase ventilation by opening windows or adjusting the air conditioning
Be careful with meetings, conferences and gatherings
Use video conferencing when possible
When not possible, hold meetings in open, well-ventilated spaces using masks
Consider adjusting or postponing large meetings, conferences or gatherings (may be restricted by law in some states or cities)
Assess the risks of business travel
Handle food carefully
Stay home if
If you could get everyone to adopt one safety measure, what would it be?
Beeler: It is a bit general, but if everyone would stop for a minute before doing a job or task and consider what the consequences of their action may be, that would be huge. I think many people can come up with a safe way to do things. It's just not always the most convenient way.
What are some additional ways to help avoid contracting COVID-19 during the pandemic not suggested by the CDC?
Gribow: People have found some innovative ways to help prevent spreading the virus. Many grocery stores now have plexiglass at the checkout stands to help block airborne particles. Employees are regularly wiping down and disinfecting shopping carts and checkout surfaces, and some stores are providing hand sanitizer or gloves at the door. They've also been requiring face masks and social distancing when people enter stores, which has, unfortunately, been controversial for some.
Manufacturers are in a particularly tough position. We're seeing a spike in meat prices because of how many of the packing plants have had to shut down due to their rate of infection. To avoid that outcome, other manufacturing companies have been implementing policies like enforced social distancing, providing plastic face shields, spreading workers out on the manufacturing lines and trading out workstations.
Jeff Beeler is the Director of Construction Industry Curriculum and has been teaching for Extension since 1997 in areas such as fire safety, hazardous materials and construction.
See a list of courses he's teaching and his bio.
Harold Gribow is a Curriculum Manager and has been teaching for Extension since 2006 in areas such as excavation, accident prevention and safety inspection.
See a list of courses he's teaching and his bio.
UC San Diego and UC San Diego Extension leadership are working closely with federal and state officials to help slow the spread of COVID-19. As of May 2020, the university is implementing Return to Learn, a program that aims to test students, faculty and staff on campus on a recurring basis for presence of COVID-19 in order to better gauge and position a return to in-person activities.