- New OSHA and Employment Posters
- Minnesota AWAIR Updated
- Safety Data Sheets and MSDSLinks
- Walk Like a Penguin (Walking Safely on Snow and Ice)
- Workers Comp series: Getting Injured Workers Back to Work
- OSHA Recordkeeping and Environmental Deadlines
Adapted from our December 2, 2020 newsletter. Information is current as of Dec. 2, 2020.
While some companies have, unfortunately, become very adept at handling issues when employees test positive for COVID-19, for others this is still a new experience.
Remember the definition of close contact: less than 6 feet apart and more than 15 minutes of contact within a 24-hour time period.
Updates to quarantine guidelines: On December 2, the CDC updated their quarantine guidelines. The new guidelines are consistent with what the Minnesota Department of Health recommends for employees who work for businesses in the critical infrastructure:
- Employees should still quarantine for 14 days, if possible.
- Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported. Testing is widely available in Minnesota, so employees should still get tested. Quarantine can end after seven days if there are no symptoms and a negative test. The test should be done within 48 hours of the final day of quarantine (so, on day 5). Employees should continue to monitor for symptoms.
If you have an employee who lives with someone who is positive: Tell employees that someone is quarantining because of a close contact. People may know who it is, but don’t reveal names unless the person gives you the okay to do so.
- Emphasize the need to wear masks (covering the mouth and nose!) while at work.
- Emphasize the need to physically distance.
- Emphasize the need to keep track of their physical well-being and to stay home if they develop any symptoms.
- Remind everyone that people are best able to spread the disease before symptoms develop, which is why masks and distance are so important.
What if an employee does not want to wear a mask at work? That becomes a discipline or enforcement issue, treated like refusing to do any other part of the job.
The first step is to try to determine if there’s a good reason why they refuse to wear masks. If it’s because it is infringing on their rights, that’s not an acceptable excuse. If it is a comfort issue or safety glasses fog up, try different masks (or look up many of the online suggestions to prevent fogging). If it is because masks are too difficult to breathe through, try different masks.
If the employee becomes sick or infects someone else at work, that second case is considered work-related and you will be required to file a first report of injury for it – you need to file for each case that seems due to workplace transmission.
What it comes down to: if employees won’t wear masks, they should not be at work.
Can someone with a beard or mustache wear a mask? Yes. Even if you’re hairy-faced, the face covering will stop most of those respiratory droplets that can make others sick. But the mask won’t do a good job of keeping you safe from others. For that, you need a mask that fits tightly to your face.
The story is different if you’re wearing a respirator to protect yourself. The CDC has a simple infographic on facial hairstyles and filtering facepiece respirators (N95s). If facial hair interferes with the mask sitting directly on the skin, the mask will not be effective at protecting you.
Who should be tested? As of November 25, Minnesota has updated their recommendations on who should get a COVID19 test:
- Anyone with symptoms should get a test immediately. Symptoms include: loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath, fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, or sore throat.
- Anyone who has been exposed to someone who is positive should be tested five days after that exposure.
- Anyone who is still working at places that remained open. Minnesota recommends that everyone going into work be tested at least once before December 18. Even better, get tested now and then be tested again at the end of four weeks. Why? According to a recent study in The Lancet Microbe, you are most likely to transmit the disease from two days before symptoms appear to five days after. If we can catch and trace positive cases in December, we increase our ability to stop the virus.
To find a free testing location, go to: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/testsites/index.html. You can even have a saliva test sent to your home.
You can also download the Minnesota COVID notification app, which will let you know if you have had contact with someone who tested positive. More information is available here: https://mn.gov/governor/news/#/detail/appId/1/id/455263
What if an employee asks to take a voluntary lay-off due to COVID? It’s really up to you as an employer, but some considerations:
- Is the employee high risk or living with people at high risk? If so, it’s good will to allow this and a way to increase the chances of this employee being able to return to work.
- Is there any work that the employee could do from home? If the employee works in a position other than office-based, that’s unlikely.
- How short-staffed will you be without this employee?
- If the employee expects to collect unemployment, not take vacation/sick leave, there are considerations for you, as the employer, and for the employee. According to the Governor’s Executive Order 20-05, unemployment benefits paid as a result of COVID will not be considered when your unemployment tax rate is calculated for 2021. You might get a notice that your account will be charged for unemployment benefits paid, but the state unemployment office states that they’ll review the account and remove those charges without you having to do anything.
The employee may not be eligible for unemployment benefits if it’s a voluntary unpaid leave of absence. For more information, look at https://www.uimn.org/employers/employer-account/news-updates/covid-19.jsp
Information is current as of Nov. 23, 2020
If an employee has had close contact with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19, they should quarantine at home for 14 days. If they can work from home for those two weeks, they should do so.
Close contact is defined as being closer than 6 feet away for at least 15 minutes within a 24-hour time period. This is regardless of wearing a mask.
Minnesota allows some leeway for companies that are considered part of the critical infrastructure.
If you are not sure if you fall into this category, look at Section 6 of Governor Walz’s Executive Order 20-48: https://www.leg.mn.gov/archive/execorders/20-48.pdf. If an employee has had close contact with someone who tested positive and “their absence would create staffing shortages,” they may return to work as long as they remain symptom-free and adhere to COVID prevention protocols.
We recommend that you have this employee self-isolate at work by requiring the following.
The employee must:
- Wear a mask at all times, other than when at lunch and on break.
- Work alone, separated from other workers by at least six feet. The employee must not get close to other employees, even to help them briefly. • Not go into any small room (mixing room, offices) if others are in that room.
- Take lunch and breaks alone.
- Use a lightweight facemask over the exhalation valve if the employee wears a half mask respirator.
- Take his or her temperature each morning and keep a record of the results.
- Affirm at the start of each work day that no symptoms have developed.
- Be tested for COVID-19 five to seven days after exposure (seven days is better). o If the test results are negative, continue self-isolation precautions until 14 days have passed. o If the test results are positive, the employee must quarantine at home for 10 days from the test date.
- Review COVID prevention protocols with all employees.
- Enforce use of masks and physical distancing.
The Minnesota Department of Health recommends several strategies for controlling the spread when employees have had close contact or tested positive. To read more, click here.
Adapted from our November 6, 2020 newsletter. Information is current as of Nov. 6, 2020.
Yeah, we’re tired of it. And it shows – the numbers in Minnesota are increasing at alarming rates. Just to remind everyone, if we take the basic precautions (mask up, wash up, keep apart):
- We are more likely to stay healthy
- Our health care workers (who still do not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) will be able to keep working
- We’re less likely to overwhelm our health care system
- Our businesses can keep operating.
Don’t wait for a vaccine. Even if one is approved early in 2021, it will take months before it is distributed to the general public. Health care and emergency services workers will be vaccinated first.
The CDC has updated the definition of a close contact to be anyone who has been within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes over a 24 hour period, within two days before someone showed symptoms or tested positive. If you talked with Bob three times on Monday, with each conversation only lasting five minutes, and he then developed symptoms on Wednesday, you’re considered a close contact. The Minnesota Department of Health recommends that you spend the next two weeks quarantining yourself.
How to protect yourself and your employees:
- Require masks be worn over the mouth and nose, especially if employees are within six feet of others (ideally, masks go on as soon as someone is within 20 feet)
- Promote and enforce physical distancing
- Limit group gatherings
- Remind employees of precautions they need to take. Any employee who believes they may have had exposure (attended an event where physical distancing and masks were not enforced), should let you know immediately. You can then decide on your strategy (have the employee work from home, isolate where they work, etc.) and determine if any other employees may have been exposed.
Talk to employees before Thanksgiving. The holidays are a time for families to get together – and that means it will be prime time to spread COVID-19. How can you celebrate safely? Zoom? Our neighboring states have the highest rates of COVID cases in the country right now. As we’re writing this, there were more than 9 million positive cases in the US and 250,000 people have died from the virus. If Minnesota’s numbers keep rising, the state will need to put more restrictions in place.
Thanksgiving is the major holiday for our family, but for the first time in our lives we aren’t getting together. Each household will have to make their own pumpkin pie to have for breakfast the next day.
Remind employees to take the standard precautions: wear face coverings when not eating, limit close contact, no hugging, wash hands frequently, physically distance (think about multiple tables or staggered eating times, rather than squeezing everyone in close), and watch for symptoms. This is a time we need to have honest conversations—if someone has had exposure, they must not put others at risk. That could mean staying home from work for 10 days after returning from a trip to see family and letting employers and coworkers know if you are at risk, so they can socially isolate at work.
COVID-19: Workplace Challenges Webinar on Mon, Nov 9
We are hosting a free webinar on Monday, November 9 at 2 pm on COVID-19: Workplace Challenges. COVID-19 cases are on the rise as we are heading into holiday and flu season. No one wants to lose employees or shut down because of the virus. But as small businesses, you’re particularly vulnerable to COVID’s impacts. If one employee gets COVID, do you need to quarantine everyone, shutting down your shop? Does each sick employee need to file for worker’s comp?
We’ve been fielding a lot of questions about the virus. So, let’s talk about them. Janet and Carol will cover some of the basics, best practices, and some of the complications.
Are masks really worth it? Yes.
Wearing face coverings has, unfortunately, become politicized. But the science behind them is sound. Even thin face coverings will block some of your respiratory emissions, reducing the chances that you’ll infect someone else (remember – you can be infectious before you show any symptoms).
If you want visual proof of why face coverings work, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Tp0zB904Mc.
Right now, it’s been anything goes for face coverings – bandanas, N95 filtering facepieces, home-made masks, balaclavas…. But an ASTM Subcommittee on Respiratory Hazards has begun working on a standard to specify the minimum design, performance, and testing requirements.
Adapted from our October 7, 2020 newsletter. Information is current as of Oct. 7, 2020.
We’ve learned a lot since January:
You’re at highest risk when you’re near an infected person indoors, in rooms without a lot of outside air, and when people are talking or laughing loudly. You’re safest when you’re outside, with a mask covering nose and mouth, and when you stay apart from others. People who are infectious may not have any symptoms.
A few words about face coverings: Cover your nose. You breathe out through that. And it’s when you breathe out that you give off the virus.
Avoid any face covering with an exhalation valve, as it reduces protection against coronavirus. Janet Keyes, CIH, notes that face coverings with exhalation valves don’t completely counteract the purpose of the cloth covering, because not all expired air will go out via the valve. But it does seem to reduce the effectiveness of the face covering.
Face coverings have been shown to be one of the most effective methods of reducing the spread, especially when combined with physical distancing.
Respirators: We are still hearing that respirators, including some half mask respirators and N95 masks, are in short supply. If you are having difficulty getting respirators from your normal supplier, consider looking for them through a safety supply house. Contact us for more information.
COVID-19 Preparedness Plan Updates: Minnesota has seen a rise in positive cases for COVID, but we are nowhere near what is called herd immunity (when so many in the population have had the virus, it no longer spreads easily). Getting to herd immunity will take years; to do it quickly will overwhelm our health care system.
As we prepare for colder weather and flu season, there are several steps you can take to help protect your workforce:
- Continue your COVID precautions (health screening, wearing masks indoors, physical distancing, disinfecting, having employees work from home when possible, using physical barriers such as sneeze screens)
- Before doors close with colder weather, take a look at your ventilation. See the information below.
- Encourage employees to get a flu shot. October is a great time to do this. You could also contact your occupational health clinic about offering flu shots at work.
Ventilation: Now it the time to meet with your HVAC company and look at improving or maintaining your HVAC system. The CDC and ASHRAE make these recommendations:
Consider improving the engineering controls using the building ventilation system. This may include some or all of the following activities:
- Increase outdoor air ventilation (do this with caution if you’re in an area with bad air pollution).
- Adjust your HVAC system to maximize the amount of outdoor air and minimize recirculation. Many HVAC systems have been set to minimize outdoor air in the interest of energy savings. But now isn’t the time to do that. In winter, you may need to reduce outside air so you can keep the building warm enough.
- Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and provide acceptable indoor air quality for the current occupancy level for each space.
- Disable demand-controlled ventilation (DCV).
- If air recirculates, ensure that return air is filtered to MERV-13 or the highest compatible with the filter rack, and seal edges of the filter to limit bypass.
- Check filters to ensure they are within service life and appropriately installed.
- Keep systems running longer hours, 24/7 if possible, to enhance air exchanges in the building space.
- Consider using portable air cleaners with HEPA filters.
Air cleaners that use ionization (such as bipolar ionization or needlepoint ionization) have been widely promoted. ASHRAE cautions that these may emit ozone, a very irritating gas. If you’re considering using these, CDC advises that they should meet UL 2998, a standard limiting ozone emissions. And check the manufacturers’ performance data. ASHRAE states that there’s a lack of convincing scientifically-rigorous, peer-reviewed studies on how well they work.
Sheltering during a pandemic: While our severe weather/tornado season is over, and blizzards generally do not require people to flee or shelter, the time to talk about emergency preparedness is when there is no emergency.
If your employees need to seek shelter during the pandemic, are you prepared? Are your shelter areas large enough that employees will be able to maintain physical distancing? We recommend the following:
- Assess whether you need to designate additional shelter areas to allow employees to space out.
- Place disposable masks, hand sanitizer and trash bags within the shelter areas.
- Verify you have current weather apps on your mobile device so you know when to seek shelter and when employees can go back to work.
- Encourage employees to plan if a disaster strikes their homes—where can they seek shelter and what supplies will they want to have ready to go?
MN Department of Labor & Industry Updates
Work Comp CAMPUS: Minnesota is moving towards an all on-line system for workers’ compensation—from filing forms (including First Report of Injury, benefit notices, and rehabilitation reports) to all information about cases that go to a hearing. MNDLI is holding Work Comp Campus trainings on a regular basis until the system goes live on November 2. For more information and to set up an account, see the Work Comp Campus website: http://www.dli.mn.gov/business/workers-compensation/work-comp-campus
MNDLI released a 13 minute video that reviews worker protections during the pandemic. It covers frequently asked questions, along with employee rights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkGkXXwvtm0&feature=youtu.be
Safe Driving: Federated Insurance recently sent notices to their insureds about the large increase in fatal and serious accidents on the road. What the Chairman and CEO wrote is worth sharing, because it has the potential to affect all of us:
As businesses like yours resume “normal operations,” company drivers are sharing the road with far fewer vehicles than in the past—and the temptation to speed or drive distracted is proving deadly. In the past 90 days, Federated clients have been involved in more than 50 crashes that killed or seriously injured someone. Every single one of these crashes had one thing in common: they were preventable.
People are dying. People are being permanently disabled. Families and businesses are being devastated all because drivers are failing to pay attention to simple safe driving practices. For example, in a recent two-week period of time:
- A young mother was killed when a company driver rear-ended her minivan while talking on the phone. Her two young children were also in the car and sustained permanent injuries.
- Three friends were killed when a company driver fell asleep behind the wheel and crossed the centerline.
- Two pedestrians died after being struck by a distracted company driver failing to yield at an intersection.
I hope we agree: this has to stop.
Imagine if your business and employees had been involved in one of these crashes. Things would never be the same. In a time when so much is out of our control; we can control—and we must control—this disturbing trend. Together, you and Federated can prevent these crashes.
Training and Respirator Fit testing – how does that happen now?
We’re still doing training and respirator fit testing, but with some significant changes. We can do training via Webex (or whatever videoconference platform you prefer). Or we’ll do it in person, but not in small conference rooms. Instead, let’s set up a space in the shop, where people can keep the appropriate distance. And instead of talking loudly, Janet is using a personal amplifier. For fit testing, we’re usually using a Portacount, doing quantitative fit testing. There’s no risk of cross-contamination from that. If possible, people will use their own respirators. If that isn’t possible, we’ll use ours, disinfected between users and with the additional precaution of having several days between users. And Janet wears an N95 filtering facepiece when she does the fit testing.
Adapted from our July 24, 2020 newsletter. Information is current as of July 24, 2020.
COVID-19 hasn’t gone away yet. While Minnesota hasn’t had the dramatic rise of some states, keeping our rate under control is taking continued vigilance.
As we’ve been learning more about how the virus spreads, the recommendations to control it have been refined. We’ve been seeing evidence of superspreading events, where one person (who may not know he or she is infected) infects lots of other people. People are infectious before they develop symptoms. Most cases can be traced to respiratory emissions, but there is still debate about whether that’s mainly from the large droplets that rapidly fall to the ground when people talk or cough (droplet transmission) and what role miniscule virus particles traveling or lingering in the air plays (aerosol transmission). Becoming infected by touching contaminated surfaces (contact transmission) hasn’t been ruled out, but doesn’t seem as much of a factor.
Why all that stuff about the type of transmission makes a difference: The guidelines on sanitizing surfaces are to control contact transmission. Keeping a distance of six feet controls droplet transmission. Wearing a face covering controls droplet transmission and seems to limit aerosol transmission.
The best measures to take continue to be to stay home if you feel ill, wear a face covering in public, maintain physical distancing, and avoid crowded spaces, especially crowded indoor spaces. And practice good contact precautions – wash your hands well, use hand sanitizer (but remember that it doesn’t work on dirty hands), clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces often.
As people are venturing out more and with the new Executive Order requiring face coverings we’ve been getting a new round of questions.
My employees won’t wear face coverings. Under Executive Order 20-54, MNOSHA can issue citations if you don’t require face coverings. But you can be creative in ways to make that person work alone, such as by creating walls higher than face level around that person. If the employee can’t wear a face covering for health reasons, provide a clear face shield that wraps around the face, completely covering the chin.
We can’t stay away from customers, but they don’t always wear face coverings (or don’t wear them over their noses). If your employees need to be close to customers or vendors, install shields or sneeze guards to serve as barriers and another layer of protection. Look at other ways to create distances, such as putting low tables in front of reception desks. Employees still need to wear face coverings when around others.
We’re cleaning surfaces conscientiously. Is there anything else we should do? Open doors. If you can install higher efficiency filters in your air handlers or bring in more outside air, do that (check with your HVAC company first).
What do we do if an employee reports contact with someone who tested positive? Consider the extent and duration of exposure. If that employee was in a crowded bar, that’s high risk. If the employee was at an outdoor picnic, the risk is less. If the time spent with the COVID-positive person is less than 15 minutes, the risk is lower. If the employee was in a high risk situation, encouraging that person to stay home is the safest option.
- Isolate the employee: if they can work from home, they should. If not, can you have them work on their own, away from others?
- Require the employee to wear a face covering and to be particularly diligent about following the contact precautions (cleaning/disinfecting, washing hands).
- Send the employee home if they show any symptoms
What do we do if an employee tests positive for COVID19? Make sure they stay home for ten days* after the first positive test. If they developed symptoms, add 24 hours after they’ve become symptom-free to the ten days. Let other employees know that an employee has tested positive (but do not give out the name of the affected employee). If other employees worked in close proximity to the affected employee, ask them to take the same precautions we list above – work at home or away from others, wear a mask….
An employee is traveling to a COVID-19 hot spot. Can I require they stay home for 14* days when they get back? Take into consideration where they are going and what places they’ll be visiting. Driving short distances will usually be less risky than flying, because the employee is likely to be around fewer people (see FAQ on flying versus driving). If the trip is likely to involve visits to bars, the risk is greater than if someone is visiting family. An outdoor waterpark is probably less risky than an indoor waterpark. Minnesota does not require 14-day* quarantine when returning from another state. Because of that, we do not know if the employee would be entitled to unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. If the employee’s trip seems high risk, follow the same precautions recommended for contact with someone who tested positive. Can you have the employee work from home? Can you have the employee work alone, with no or limited contact with other employees? *On July 17, the Centers for Disease Control changed its recommendation for isolating those who are infected with COVID-19 from 14 days to 10 days.
Is it safer to travel by plane or by car? You’re still more likely to die in a car crash than in an airplane crash. But you can avoid groups of people more readily if you travel by car.
- Wear a face covering in public places (restrooms, stores, gas stations)
- Choose outdoor dining or take-away rather than eating in a restaurant
Air travel puts you in tight quarters with a lot of other people who may be fine or may be infectious. To reduce risk:
- Check the airline’s precautions before you book. Your health is worth the extra cost to fly an airline that is not filling every seat and that lists the precautions they are taking.
- Wear a face covering in the airport and on the plane
- Keep your distance from others as much as you can. Check in ahead of time. Bring hand sanitizer (no larger than 12 ounces). Familiarize yourself with TSA requirements, so you can move through security as efficiently as possible.
What difference does ventilation make? The virus spreads through droplets and aerosols, the smaller particles we transmit when we cough, sneeze, talk, and sing. That transmission is not as good or effective outdoors or where there is a lot of fresh air. In summer and early fall, keeping doors open will help. ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has recommendations for changes in building operations to control airborne exposure to coronavirus. This may require changes to your HVAC system, or simply changing the filter efficiency. We recommend you contact your HVAC rep now to see what can be done from a building operations standpoint.
Preparedness Plans You should have a COVID19 Preparedness Plan in place by now. If you have questions about that, please let us know. Watch for recommended plan updates in future newsletters.
Industrial hygiene in the news We used to have to explain what we meant by the term PPE, but now we hear about it almost daily on all the news outlets. IH, or industrial hygiene, is (was) an even more obscure term. People would ask if industrial hygienists clean buildings.
Well, sort of. Industrial hygiene “is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injury or illness.”
In this time of coronavirus, Janet’s extensive knowledge as a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) is invaluable. She is the one behind answering so many coronavirus related questions and keeping up on the latest research. And now IH is in the mainstream media: ABC News recently did a story on “How air purifiers and cleaners may help keep you safer indoors from COVID-19” that quotes several CIHs we know.
Deaths don’t stop for a virus MN OSHA came out with its quarterly fatality investigations log and its serious injury log. It doesn’t look like the pandemic reduced the number of fatalities, as there were fourteen in this most recent quarter ending June 30. Minnesota had nine serious injuries
- Six fatalities were COVID-related. Their workplaces included meat processors, a hospital, a nursing home, a therapist’s office, and a provider of community housing services.
- An employee was electrocuted when an aerial lift contacted a powerline and another was seriously injured from power line contact. We don’t know any details, but we know the precautions to avoid this: always keep a minimum of ten feet away from overhead powerlines. Look up. Use a spotter.
- Two employees were hit or crushed by skid steers. One employee was seriously injured by equipment. Prevention: Be especially alert around heavy equipment. Wear high visibility PPE. Use spotters if you can’t keep a close eye on the skid steer.
- Three fatalities and two serious injuries were caused by falls.
- One fatality was probably from heat.
- One serious injury was burns from an arc.
OSHA’s fatality investigations try to find out why someone died, why an employee came to work and will never go home. When we read these, we think about ways these deaths could be prevented. But each victim has a family who only knows their loved one is never coming home again. Each of the serious injuries is an advance warning, a reminder that it could have been a fatality.
Adapted from our May 18, 2020 newsletter
Welcome Back? COVID-19 and the Long Game
Restrictions are being lifted, but the pandemic hasn’t stopped. As you keep your essential employees working, bring employees back to the office, or consider continuing remote work, don’t let up on keeping them safe and healthy.
This newsletter will cover some of the most recent developments, recommendations and resources, and answer some more frequently asked questions. For past newsletters and information, please see our Coronavirus page http://chess-safety.com/safety-resources-161/resources?id=102
Break the Chain of Transmission
Knowing how the disease is spread means you know what steps are needed to prevent its spread.
- Don’t breathe others’ breath. Even apparently healthy people can transmit COVID-19. Just talking produces microscopic droplets.
- Watch what you touch. If those microscopic droplets land on a surface that you then touch, you can transfer the virus to your nose and mouth.
The measures to take at your facility
- Keep people separated. That means at work and during breaks
- Require people to report if they feel ill – and to stay home.
- Consider checking temperatures (or encourage employees to check their own). A temperature of 100.4° F or higher is a cause for concern.
- How to check? Use a no-touch thermometer. Target is offering those at cost ($51.49) to businesses. See https://corporate.target.com/about/purpose-history/our-commitments/target-coronavirus-hub/b2b-thermometers
- Clean often. Focus, in particular, on the surfaces people touch a lot. Provide hand sanitizer and handwashing supplies.
- Keep encouraging people to work from home if feasible.
Minnesota OSHA has specific guidelines at http://www.dli.mn.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/employer_preparedness_plan_requirements_checklist.pdf
The American Industrial Hygiene Association has guidelines for different industries at www.backtoworksafely.org
Let us know if you need help developing guidelines for your workplace.
If you want assistance with developing your COVID19 Prevention Plan, please contact us.
Should everyone come back to the office?
Continue to have employees work from home, if feasible. The Governor’s Stay Safe MN order allows more facilities to reopen, but keeps in place working from home, if possible, and staying close to home.
Do you have to require face masks?
Face masks are not required by law, but they help stop you from spreading droplets to others. We encourage their use when people are around other people. Remember that face masks are not respirators – respirators are intended to protect the wearer from breathing in harmful contaminants. Facemasks protect other people by limiting the spread of respiratory droplets. Many establishments will request customers wear them, if they are able to.
Do you have to provide face masks?
No, but if you want people to use them, we recommend providing them. Employers have to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) at no cost, but because face masks are not protecting the wearer, they aren’t considered PPE.
Can someone refuse to work if a mask isn’t provided?
Maybe, but not usually. Employees have the right to refuse to work under conditions they think present an imminent danger of death or serious physical harm. Health care workers providing care to COVID-19 patients can exercise this right. No one else should be working near anyone with symptoms (because the symptomatic person should be at home). Don’t ignore a complaint from someone refusing to work because of lack of masks, though – work with that person to find out what would make them comfortable at work.
Employers may not retaliate against employees who raise safety concerns. For that matter, employers may not retaliate against employees who bring in their own protective gear.
What if you can’t get N95 filtering facepieces (“dust masks”)
N95 filtering facepieces have become nearly impossible to obtain. Your choices, for people who routinely use those for protection against dusts in the workplace:
If use is required
Can you switch to half-mask respirators with particulate filters or prefilters? For body shops, the prefilters on paint spray respirators make them equivalent to N95 filtering facepieces. Contact us for fit testing if you need to make this switch.
If use is voluntary
Option 1: half-mask respirators with particulate filters or prefilters. These do require medical approval.
Option 2: Non-NIOSH approved filtering facepieces, such as the Chinese KN95 masks. These can be nearly as effective as NIOSH-approved N95s, but they may not fit as well. The KN95 is designed to fit Chinese faces, so it may be a lot harder to get a suitable fit for people with European, African, or American ancestry.
If you’re thinking about going through a new vendor for filtering facepieces, be cautious – there are a lot of counterfeit N95 respirators on the market. Contact us if you need to know if you’re being offered legitimate ones. One way to tell: if it has ear loops instead of straps that go around your head, it is not a NIOSH-approved respirator.
Option 3, the best option: Look at ways to control dust. Don’t use compressed air to blow it around. Use dust capture systems. Cloth face masks may improve comfort, but they aren’t effective at stopping small particles.
Annual Right to Know Training and Respirator Fit Testing
In accord with the Governor’s orders, we haven’t been doing the required annual Right to Know training and respirator fit testing. During the pandemic, OSHA is “exercising enforcement discretion” for fit testing. If we can do in-person Right to Know training for a small group in a large area, so we can stay far enough apart, we’ll do that training. We’re looking at ways to provide virtual Right to Know training – but it’ll be without candy. We’re holding off on any annual respirator fit testing that can be delayed.
Ergonomics at home
All that effort spent on setting up good workstations in the office is for naught when people work at home. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Carol’s been providing webinars on creating ergonomic workspaces at home. If you’re interested in that or want guidance on good ergonomic practices for home use, contact us. An example: ironing boards make good, height adjustable workstations.
Electrical safety at home
As employees work at home, make sure they don’t get careless with cords. ESFI published this infographic to remind people about safe use of electricity at home.
LTAP Resources for Public Works and others
The Minnesota Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) has a page of safety resources, including one-page safety tip sheets. http://www.mnltap.umn.edu/topics/workplace/index.html
Remember Water Gremlin? They had some serious problems with lead exposure – and with emissions of trichloroethylene, a chlorinated solvent used most often for metal degreasing. On May 13, the Minnesota Legislature passed a ban on the use of trichloroethylene in any manufacturing or cleaning process or use. Governor Walz is expected to sign it into law this week (the week of May 15), with the ban going into effect June 1, 2022. Trichloroethylene is classified as a carcinogen and may cause birth defects. Minnesota is the first state to ban the chemical.
We were researching a water disinfectant, chlorine dioxide, when we came across a peculiar use of it. Chlorine dioxide is used like chlorine to make water safe to drink, but because it is unstable, it has to be created onsite by mixing sodium chlorite and an acid. People actually have been suckered into drinking the ingredients, thinking it’ll cure everything from autism to COVID-19. The ingredients are sold under names such as “Miracle Mineral Supplement.” Disinfectants such as chlorine and chlorine dioxide, added to water in carefully controlled amounts, have saved billions of lives. But you wouldn’t drink straight bleach, and you shouldn’t drink sodium chlorite. The dose makes the poison – and the dose you get from drinking these can certainly poison you.
Contact us for assistance with safety, health and environmental issues. Please reach out if you have additional questions on any information in this newsletter, the novel coronavirus, or other health and safety issues.
Letter from the MPCA
A few hazardous waste generators recently received a letter from the MPCA about paying an invoice for their 2018 hazardous waste. If you are in the Twin Cities metro area, you would have paid a fee to your county for your hazardous waste permit. The MPCA also imposes a fee, which is billed separately, and may be sent some time later. We are working with the MPCA on clarification about this. If you get this letter and have questions about it, please let us know (maybe we will have an answer).
Adapted from our April 13, 2020 newsletter
More on SARS-COV-2 (Are you sick of it yet?)
You’re masked up, so you’re safe now, right? Not so fast.
We want people who need to work closely with infected people to wear N95 filtering facepieces, which are very effective at blocking the virus if they fit well. The limiting factor isn’t the respirator material. It’s how well it fits the user’s face. If it doesn’t seal well, it doesn’t provide much protection. Surgical masks and home-made masks aren’t designed to seal tightly and aren’t nearly as effective at filtering microscopic particles.
Surgical masks and home-made masks are designed to keep big droplets from getting out, not to protect you from breathing in contaminants. Think of your home-made mask or surgical mask (or even an N95 you had left over from a home improvement project) as an added layer of protection for others. It isn’t a substitute for staying away and washing your hands.
COVID-19 is transmitted, mainly, from close contact with other people – coughing on them, talking on them, breathing on them. Some transmission likely occurs when someone coughs onto a surface; someone else touches that surface, then touches his or her mucus membranes. Wearing a mask may help capture any virus emitted from the person wearing it – but don’t let up on keeping your distance.
- If you stay away from people, the unseen droplets they spew out when talking won’t land on your face, and vice versa.
- If you cough or sneeze, droplets can be propelled some distance, even more than the six feet distance recommended by health experts. Wearing a home-made mask might reduce the number of droplets that can be spread that way (but it won’t stop them completely).
- If you wipe your hand across your runny nose, then use that hand to give someone your credit card, and then that other person rubs their eye, virus that was in your nose can be transferred to that person’s eyes (one of the mucus membranes that lets the virus into your body).
- If you wear a face mask, you can’t wipe your hand across your runny nose as easily.
- If you wear a face mask, the fabric will capture a lot of those droplets from talking, coughing or sneezing, so they won’t travel through the air. But some still could get through. Because the number may be a lot less, the other person’s risk of disease is likely to be lowered.
- The droplets will be captured on the inside of the face mask. Most of the droplet is just water (that’s what makes up most of your mucus). Could the virus be dislodged when the droplet dries out? We know it isn’t likely from N95 filtering facepieces, because that’s been studied. But we can’t be sure from other fabrics.
- We know that people can transmit the virus even before they have symptoms. If you’re infected and not yet showing symptoms, you’ll probably transmit fewer infectious droplets if you’re wearing a mask.
Caring for a face mask
a) Treat the outside as contaminated by others. You don’t want that part against your face. Use sanitizer on your hands before you remove it. When you remove it, fold it inwards, if you must reuse it.
b) Use hand sanitizer before you put a used mask back on, and then immediately after you put it on. Again, assume the outside is contaminated.
c) Store the mask in a clean location – a paper bag works well. If it’s at all damp, don’t store it in plastic. You don’t need a moldy mask.
d) Wash the mask often. The ideal would be washing it each day (they’re cheap to make. Go fashionable, and use a different one each day).
e) Don’t want to wear a mask? Don’t want to wash your hands? Don’t go out. If you don’t have any contact with anyone who has contact with someone who has been near someone who works with someone who has the virus, you won’t get it.
f) Don’t forget to stay away from others and to wash your hands. Those are the most important steps we can take to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Shortages of N95 filtering facepieces
Any employer who normally provides their employees with respirators, particularly N95 filtering facepiece respirators (N95FFR), knows that it is very difficult to get these now. These are recommended for some work tasks and required for others. There may be ways to reduce the need for these or to change to another type of respirator.
- Can the work be done wet, reducing dust levels and the need for masks?
- Is local ventilation an option?
- Can the work be delayed? Or is there another way to do the work?
- Could the employee wear a half mask respirator with cartridges, or a powered air purifying respirator?
Clients – If you have employees who have worn N95 FFR for tasks in the past and you want guidance on options to eliminate their need or substitute another type of respirator, please contact us. This is one of Janet’s areas of expertise.
How Great Is the Risk? And How Can You Lower It?
OSHA recently published a worker exposure risk assessment pyramid for exposure to COVID-19.
Jobs in the very high exposure risk category include healthcare workers and those working directly with people who are known to have (or had) COVID-19.
Medium exposure includes workers with frequent or close contact with others who may be infected. This would include store clerks.
Low exposure will be most workers who have minimal contact with coworkers or the public.
There are ways to reduce employee exposures:
- Distancing. Separate employees whenever possible.
- Physical barriers. Companies, such as nParallel in Plymouth, sell shields and signage reminding people about distancing.
- Staggered start and break times.
- Allow for frequent hand washing
- Disinfect frequently touched areas several times throughout the day
- Whenever possible, have employees work from home.
Can an employee refuse to work if you do not supply a mask?
Certainly not because of COVID-19, if the employee is in a medium or low risk category. An employee has the right to refuse work if there is “ a reasonable belief of imminent danger of death or serious physical harm.” If an employee is not working in close proximity to other employees, is not working with anyone who has or is suspected of having COVID-19, there is no imminent danger. If an employee expresses concern about working without a mask, the employer should take steps to reduce potential exposures (see the paragraph right above this, on ways to reduce employee exposure). The reality is that masks are very difficult to obtain right now – and they aren’t a substitute for the other control measures of distance, barriers and handwashing.
Workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19
The Minnesota workers’ compensation regulations were expanded to include COVID-19 for very specific groups of employees: emergency responders (police, fire, paramedic, EMT), health care providers, and child care providers for first responders and health care workers.
The date of injury will be the date the employee was not able to work due to symptoms of or diagnosis of COVID-19.
If someone who does not fall into the emergency responder, health care worker, or child care provider categories believes they contract COVID 19 from work, it is the employee’s burden to show that the illness arose out of or in the course of work.
For specific information and more details about this changes, please see the MN Department of Labor & Industry Updates Related to COVID-19: https://www.dli.mn.gov/updates?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
Adapted from an article we wrote for AASP-MN News, April 2020 issue. Information is current as of April 1, 2020.
Can that steering wheel harbor the coronavirus?
Maybe, but not forever.
The primary route by which people become infected is from direct contact with respiratory secretions – that is, someone coughs or sneezes and droplets from that cough land on someone else’s nose, mouth or eyes. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control is recommending a six-foot distance. Particles from your cough or sneeze readily travel three feet. Add another three feet for safety.
What about surface transmission? If that sneeze lands on a steering wheel and you handle the steering wheel, could you get sick? Maybe. It depends on how long ago that sneeze occurred, what the steering wheel is made from, and what you do when you handle it.
Time and material – A study of the virus found that some was still alive up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. After three days, the amount of viable virus dropped by a factor of more than 1000. After just 24 hours on cardboard, no viable virus could be found. Other studies of similar coronaviruses, such as the one that causes SARS, found viability up to nine days on plastic at room temperature (less on other materials). So if an infected person sneezed onto the steering wheel, some virus could still live there, particularly if it was just brought into the shop.
What you do – The virus can’t infect you if it doesn’t get into you. It gets in via mucous membranes of your mouth, nose, and eyes. If you only touch the steering wheel briefly, the chance of transmission is low. If you wash your hands diligently and keep your hands away from your face, the chance of transmission drops. Simply sitting in the car that an infected person drove won’t make you sick. Think of viruses as small dust particles – they don’t suddenly become airborne. You need to touch the contaminated surface and then touch your mouth/nose/eyes.
What should you do with that car? It makes sense to wipe down the steering wheel with a disinfectant, because you’ll be touching that and that’s where particles from an uncovered cough or sneeze would land. Coronaviruses aren’t hard to kill – commercial disinfectants will work, if you follow label instructions. You can use 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water, made up fresh daily, if it won’t damage the surface, or 60% or stronger alcohol. Wipe down the door handles you’re likely to touch, if you want. That’s not as likely to be sneezed on, though.
Also, consider these examples provided by the DEG for a clean work environment:
- Disinfecting surfaces being touched before and after repairs
- Interior vehicle protection (seats, steering wheels, keys, gear levers)
- Wearing additional PPE
Adapted from the March 26,2020 newsletter
Overwhelmed by the media coverage about COVID-19? Tired of socially isolating and questioning the value of that? We will bring you updates when we think it is warranted, but if you have questions at any time, please contact us. Both Janet and Carol are monitoring a number of news, safety/health sites, and research sites, keeping up with the information coming out.
Frequently asked questions
What’s the difference between coronavirus, novel coronavirus and COVID-19
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause colds and flus. The one responsible for this pandemic is usually called the novel coronavirus, because it’s the newest one. The official name is SARS-CoV-2: SARS, because it is related to the SARS virus that caused an illness outbreak in 2003 and CoV for Corona Virus. The disease this virus causes is COVID-19, CoronaVirus Disease 2019. Feel free to call it the COVID19 virus, just as the World Health Organization does.
How do people become infected?
When you exhale, and even more so when you cough or sneeze, you give out droplets of mucus too small to see. Those droplets land on any nearby surface. If you have COVID-19 virus in your respiratory tract, those particles contain lots of the virus. When someone near you gets that droplet on the mucus membranes of their nose, mouth and eyes, the virus gets into that person’s body, causing an infection.
Why do we have to keep a distance of six feet?
The respiratory particles or droplets travel about three feet, maybe even more. If you stay at least six feet away, you’re less likely to breathe in those droplets.
Illustration by Toby Morris, from Thespinoff.co.nz
See https://thespinoff.co.nz/covid-19/25-03-2020/the-side-eye-viruses-vs-everyone/ for a good illustration of why social distancing works.
If the droplets are spread through the air, is all air contaminated?
The droplets don’t stay in the air for very long. They’ll drop onto surfaces within about ten minutes.
Why do we have to wash our hands?
The primary route of exposure is from getting the droplets on the mucus membranes. (There may be transmission from breathing in the droplets if you’re very close to the infected person.) Your hands can pick up the virus from a contaminated surface. If you then touch the mucus membranes of your nose and mouth, or your eyes, the virus can infect you.
When you wash your hands, the soap and the mechanical action of rubbing your hands lift foreign matter (dirt, virus) off your skin. Using sanitizer decreases the viability of any pathogen (disease organism) on your skin. Hand washing is more effective at removing the virus from your skin than using hand sanitizers, but hand sanitizers are a lot more convenient. Use both.
For a good illustration of why soap and water works so well, see this video: https://www.vox.com/2020/3/18/21185262/how-soap-kills-the-coronavirus
Does the virus survive on surfaces?
For a while. There’s little research on this, because the virus is new. The only study published to date (but not yet confirmed) showed that this virus survived up to three days on plastic, two days on metal, and one day on cardboard. Studies of related coronaviruses showed survival for as long as 9 days on plastic. Survival on paper products is usually much less.
Can you catch it from food?
No. You cannot get COVID-19 by swallowing it. But if an infected person coughed on the outside of the container, it could cause infection (see the note about survival on surfaces). If you are picking up take-out (good support for local, small businesses), once you get home, take the food out of the packaging and wash your hands. Then eat. And keep hands away from your face.
How do I know what products can be used to clean?
The EPA has been updating the list of disinfectant products believed to be effective against the coronavirus. The list is available here. Pay attention to the contact time recommended for the product to be effective. https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2
Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry published a guidance document on worker protections related to COVID-19, including information on sick leave, FMLA, workers compensation, and unemployment.
What measures should my business take?
Keep away from each other. Stagger breaks and lunches, so you don’t have people near each other.
Encourage employees to clean hands, cover coughs, and keep hands away from face.
Wipe/disinfect the surfaces that are frequently touched, including door handles, time clocks, refrigerator handles, microwaves, faucets, and light switches.
How long do we need to keep this social distancing up?
If we stop while the number of infections are still on the rise, we might get a temporary drop – but then the virus will come back with a vengeance. We saw this happen in Denver in the 1918 flu pandemic. Mortality started to rise. Schools closed, public gatherings were banned. Those measures began to control the virus. Then people began to gather again. Very soon, the mortality rate rose again, even higher.
The sooner we can stop the spread of the virus, by staying away from each other, the sooner life can return to normal. Research modelers estimate it will take weeks (one estimate is 3-7 weeks), not days.
What is CHESS doing?
We’re still working, because we can do much of our work anywhere.
We are working on setting up conference calling capability so we can hold safety committee meetings remotely. We are also working on ways that we can deliver training remotely, so that you do not have to gather employees in a group.
We’re not doing respirator fit testing now, unless absolutely necessary.
We continue to field and address questions and concerns as they come in.
We will continue to send out updates and information sheets.
As always, reach out if you have any specific questions, about coronavirus or any other environmental, health or safety issue. In the meantime, stay safe and stay distant (physically).
Adapted from our March 13, 2020 newsletter
Should you be concerned about the coronavirus? Yes.
Should you panic? No.
It is a greater concern than the flu – the vaccine for seasonal flu reduces its annual impact, and we have medications to treat flu. We don’t have a vaccine or specific medications for COVID-19. Because it is so new, people haven’t developed immunity to it. It’s spreading more rapidly than the flu and to date, the death rate from it has been much higher than from flu.
What effect would it have on your company?
- More employees out sick, so you may be short-staffed. Having fewer people do more can lead to more injuries.
- Supply chain interruptions, so you’re short on parts
- Customer demand down
You can lessen the effect on your company by keeping people healthy and by planning for the interruptions.
Keep People Healthy
- Remind and encourage employees to wash their hands frequently, for 20 seconds (long enough to sing the birthday song twice or the alphabet song)
Have hand sanitizer available. Provide disposable wipes to encourage employees to wipe down desks, tools, keyboards, or other surfaces they often touch.
- Line trash containers so custodians do not have to touch the trash.
- Routinely clean surfaces, especially frequently touched ones (countertops, refrigerator doors, door handles).
- Actively encourage employees who are sick to stay home.
- Do you require a doctor’s note for absences? Consider foregoing that for respiratory illnesses. You don’t want sick infectious people spreading disease either at work or at the doctor’s office.
- Sick family members? Encourage those employees to stay home, too.
- Separate people. No company meetings for now. If you can keep people at least six feet apart, the chance for transmission drops.
- Do you need to provide personal protective equipment such as gloves or face masks? No. And providing them will backfire if that makes people forget to wash hands or cover their cough. A surgical-type mask worn by a sick person protects people around that person, by catching potentially infectious respiratory secretions (such as a runny nose) at the source. It doesn’t protect the wearer.
Plan for Disruption
This should be an addition to or part of your business continuity plan.
- How will you fare with absent workers? They might not even be sick, but may need to stay home because their children’s schools are closed or because they were near infected people.
- Can some people work from home? What do you need to do to make that happen (think about computer access and security)?
- Can job tasks be postponed or given to someone else? What cross-training is needed?
- What are your critical supply chains? How could those be interrupted? Do you have backup plans or alternative suppliers?
- Can you limit employee contact with the public, customers, or vendors?
- Can employees keep their distance?
Engage employees when developing your plan. Be flexible: some of the information is changing frequently. Make sure employees know what your plan is.
The CDC offers a number of posters that can be printed. These cover topics from spreading germs, hand washing, fact sheets and recognizing symptoms. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/factsheets.html
Minnesota Department of Health also has a large number of posters available for download.
OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
OSHA web page for COVID-19
CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
CDC Coronavirus website
Minnesota Department of Health Coronavirus Disease 2019 website
- COVID-19 Preparedness Plan Updates
- Ventilation: Now is the time to meet with your HVAC company.
- Sheltering During a Pandemic
- MN Dept. of Labor and Industry Updates
- Insurance companies report a large increase in serious road accidents
- Training and respirator fit-testing – how do we do it now?
- Hazardous Waste Reporting Season is coming
- COVID-19 and the Long Game
- Break the Chain of Transmission
- Questions (Can we come back to work? Can we do that safely?)
- Annual Right to Know Training and Respirator Fit Testing
- Ergonomics and Electrical Safety at Home
- LTAP Resources for Public Works and Others
- Letter from the MPCA
- Strange “cures”
- Contact CHESS about home ergonomics webinars.
- You’re wearing a mask so you’re safe, right? Not so fast.
- OSHA Updates: N95 Filtering Facepiece Shortage
- Exposure Risk Pyramid
- Can an employee refuse to work if the employer doesn’t supply a mask?
- Workers’ comp for COVID-19
- Severe Weather Week April 13-17
- Hands-Free Law – Don’t Hold Your Phone
- Construction Season and Safety in Work Zones
- Welcome, Noel Schneider!
- Air Quality Rules – Exempt Notification Due May 14 (if you don’t have a permit)
- Voluntary Use of Respirators
- Hazards of Hydraulic Presses
- Short Video on Handheld Saws and Silica Dust, Available Online
- “Up in the Air” – Air Quality-related Changes at the MPCA
- OSHA Recordkeeping and Environmental Deadlines
- Excavation Company Cited after Worker’s Death
- Safety Walkarounds for Managers
- Tree Trimming – a Short Safety Reminder
- Don’t Toss Those Batteries
- Aerosol Cans: OK to Puncture and Drain, Better to Use Them Up
- OSHA Standards Cited Most Often in 2017
- Aerosol Can Disposal Correction – Takes Effect in 2018
- Where to Get Required Employment Posters, Free
- General Comment on Federal and Minnesota Rules
- OSHA Recordkeeping Changes
- OSHA Silica Standard Effective June 2017
- Walking-Working Surfaces Standard Rewritten
- MPCA May Ease Air Quality Requirements for Small Facilities
- Proposed Limits on NMP, methylene chloride
- Minnesota Safety Conference May 14-16
- Welcome New Staff – Jacob Thorson, EHS Technician
- OSHA 300 Summary
- Injury Reporting / OSHA 300 Logs
- Ricky Rubio and You Can Save a Life
- Employment Posters
- Ramsey County VSQG Program
- Right to Know
- Abrasive Wheel Checklist
- AWAIR Programs
- May 16, 2013, AWAIR Workshop