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#50: What Employers Need to Know About Coronavirus (COVID-19)

March 11, 2020 | 1 hour 10 minutes 56 seconds

In this episode, podcast series host Jill James is joined by Deborah Roy, President-Elect of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP). They discuss how employers can prepare for the Coronavirus in affected and not-yet-affected areas, where to get accurate, current information, and how to prepare for pandemics. This is a very timely episode you will not want to miss.

Links and Show Notes

The Safety Professional’s Role in Planning for a Pandemic - https://www.assp.org/news-and-articles/2020/03/02/the-safety-professional-s-role-in-planning-for-a-pandemic
Preparing for a Pandemic (Lessons From A(H1N1) - https://www.assp.org/docs/default-source/psj-articles/psj0611_f1roy.pdf?sfvrsn=2
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters​ - https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters
Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers (Plan, Prepare and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019​) - https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute. This is episode number 50. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer, and today I'm joined by Deborah Roy. Deborah is the president elect of the American Society of Safety Professionals, and is also the president and owner of SafeTech Consultants. Deborah has more than 25 years of consulting in global safety and health management systems, sustainability and control of high hazard chemical risks.

She received her bachelor of science degree in nursing from Northeastern University in Boston and her master of public health degree in occupational, health and safety from the University of North Carolina. Deborah is also a certified occupational health nurse, and a certified safety professional, as well as a fellow for both ASSP and the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses. Deborah, thank you so much for making time today.

Deborah:

You're welcome.

Jill:

So Deborah, I want to point out with our listening audience right away, that this is a special recording of the podcast. And it's special because today we're going to be talking about Coronavirus or COVID-19 as it's known. And I want to be able to point out to our guests right away that this recording is being done on March 9th, 2020. So welcome Deborah, and I want to share why I was so interested in talking with you.

Deborah:

Thank you for having me.

Jill:

So last week, I believe it was last week, Deborah, you had published an article along with the American Society of Safety Professionals titled The Safety Professionals Role in Planning for a Pandemic. And I'm wondering, that's what compelled me to want to reach out to you, because I thought it was a fascinating title and I thought it was so timely right now as so many of us, safety and health professionals, are wondering, what is our role? What can we be doing? How can we empower ourselves and how can we empower our employers to be able to take some actions as we're watching this virus spread? And that's why I wanted to reach out to you. And I'm so grateful that you're making time for us today.

Deborah:

Okay.

Jill:

So Deborah, what compelled you to write the article? Is there something in your history that came out that said, I've got to be talking about this.

Deborah:

Well, in talking to the staff at the American Society of Safety Professionals, they said, "Gee, you've got this background, could do this with us." And I said, "Yes." And the reason I have that background is I just recently retired from L.L.Bean. I was the corporate director of Health, Safety and Wellness and I had global responsibility. And just by coincidence happened to run the pandemic team when we went through the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

So I was very familiar with the process and just happened to have an unusual background of being both an occupational health nurse and a safety professional. And so based on the request and that background, that's where I am now.

Jill:

And you actually had written something about preparing for a pandemic as well, prior to the article that you wrote yesterday, last week rather.

Deborah:

Yes. This article on the ASSP website was a week ago. And then the previous article that was actually published in professional safety journal was actually after the H1N1 outbreak, and that was, I believe it was published in 2011, and it was about preparing for a pandemic and really lessons learned from that. And we did learn a lot from going through that last time as we will again this time.

Jill:

So if you don't mind Deborah, for anyone who hasn't had the opportunity to read the article, which we'll include in the show notes, maybe we can just walk through the pieces of the article for people to be able to hear right from the author what you have to say about all of these points. Is that okay with you?

Deborah:

Sure.

Jill:

All right. So one of the things that it starts with right away, and anyone who's paying attention to reading on social media is about sources and who you can rely on as trusted resources and information. So can you talk more about where safety and health professionals should be going? Who are those reliable sources?

Deborah:

Sure. And I will say it is very natural during any pandemic to have misinformation and rumors. And I think with social media today, and just the speed of communication that is just much worse this time. But clearly I think as a health and safety professional, we have an obligation to really focus on the true facts and not on the interpretations we see on the internet. There are lots of people who have opinions. And I think our role as professionals is really to try to weed through the information, and determine where we can trust that scientific information and then present that.

So for example, WHO, which is the World Health Organization is the source that I use the most, because I had global responsibilities in my corporate life, and in my consulting life before I went back into a corporate role. I've always really had more of a global view of the information. And they do a fabulous job with that information. So I would suggest that as a starting point. In the United States, the Center for Disease Control also has a good website and keep their information up to date for the most part. And I think they have some good tools on there, and particularly, recently they have tools for different kinds of organizations, including health care and employers in general.

And those actually are really good tools to use for employers that are trying to navigate, preparing a plan. Because if you haven't been in a situation where you've done pandemic planning before, it's a good place to start. OSHA also has their own website on coronavirus and they do have information for employers as well.

Jill:

Wonderful. Yeah, go ahead.

Deborah:

And then finally, if you're looking for more medically oriented information, I would go to JAMA or PubMed for those resources. Because one of the things I get really nervous about with this kind of a situation is people will look at information that is pseudo medical and assume it's accurate. So I think it's really important to look at the published information that's in the trusted medical sources.

Jill:

Wonderful. One of the things that I've been leaning into and when I'm speaking with people in my circles, it's, go back to what your English teacher taught you in your high school research paper to really look at your sources, right. And this is one of those times where we really want to look at those sources. So thank you so much for sharing that piece. So when it comes to, you had mentioned a moment ago about a pandemic plan. And if people don't have a pandemic plan, because I'm guessing some of our listeners may be thinking, "Oh, oh we don't have anything like that." Or maybe some that do. What would you say? Where does someone start with coming up with a plan and do we call it always a pandemic plan? Could it also be called an emergency action plan? What are you kind of seeing with that?

Deborah:

Sure, and I think it varies depending on the company and the type of organization. I think more globally, people would call plans, business continuity plans. And then out of a business continuity plan, there could be different segments that apply to different risks, for example. And emergency response may be one of them. Pandemic response may be another, or those may be commingled depending on the company. And sometimes if they have an onsite occupational medicine facility, that group may be responsible for the plan.

In my case, in my corporate role, I was responsible for the onsite healthcare facility as well as the safety and environmental and so forth components. So consequently the plan really was my responsibility and my team's responsibility. And then we had other partners in the organization who we worked with on the team. So for example, there was a director in HR that was on the team with me, and then a director from finance. And the three of us were the core team. And then from there, we brought in other people depending on who was needed to collaborate in the company.

So that's what I would recommend to start with if you don't have anything in place, is to really get a collaborative team together, because you have different perspectives on the issues. And then from there, pull in other people. So for example, if you want to have people doing telework because there's a case in your particular area or maybe a case in your area soon, then... And if you don't have a teleworking policy, you may want to bring in somebody from the IT department to help with that piece on the team, or to have them work on a separate project or a subgroup work on a separate project like that.

So depending on what you have in place and what your needs are, you could access different people in the company to do different pieces. Overall, the plan, maybe, as I said earlier, part of the business continuity plan or it could be completely separate. And regardless of which it is, you want to think about what kinds of things are going to impact the organization and the people in the organization. And do that anticipation looking at different phases. So for example, if there are no cases in your area right now, then it's time to put together all of the planning piece for when there are cases. If you're already at a point where there are cases, then you might already be getting questions about, what do we tell people that have symptoms? Who aren't yet tested? What do we do about people that have come back from countries that have a high incidence of cases right now?

Those kinds of things need to be addressed if you haven't already, if you're further down the road, and haven't done the planning. So some of the things that we experienced when we went through this in 2009, is we recognize that if we had people sick in the workplace and they were non-exempt, meaning they were paid hourly, they may not have enough sick time available to cover being out of work for let's say two weeks, which is what we're saying in this case. And so you may need to work with your HR department to develop a pandemic pay policy, so that people will actually notify your onsite medical facility if they have symptoms that you've outlined. Because if they aren't doing that and they aren't staying home, then you're going to spread the illness throughout your company.

Jill:

Yeah. Right. For people who are listening, those of us who are safety professionals, many of us or even the HR professionals who are listening as well, many of us often do our jobs kind of a solo operators. This would be one of those times where, as Deborah's pointing out, it's so critical to bring together numbers of people from your organization who can each take a piece of this. And you can work collaboratively on this as well. So Deborah, you're pointing out right now different actions that people can take to prepare and to put into their plan. And you just talked about some of those. What about, in your article, you also talked about identifying critical job functions and positions and planning for alternate coverage. So can you talk more about what that might look like.

Deborah:

Sure. One of the things that oftentimes companies don't think about is if indeed you do have people that become ill from a pandemic, do you have their positions covered? So for example, in a particular area of the business, you may need certain people or you may need a certain number of people to be able to run the function. And if that's the case, you need to know what those critical job functions are to keep the organization going. And then how many people or who you need to do those things? And unfortunately, a lot of companies run with very lean operations, where they may not have a lot of other people who know how to do those tasks.

And if that's the case and there's no backup for those individuals, then you might have a critical job function that will stop the company from doing their work. And so it's really important to identify those upfront, and then plan for alternative coverage. And that means you might need to cross train staff. And if that's the case, the safety professionals often need to be involved because as part of that planning, you need to make sure that there aren't shortcuts, and that people are actually doing the task in a safe way, even if other new people are now being cross trained to do it. And I think that's really important in the process.

Jill:

Yeah, makes complete sense. In a previous job, I had responsibilities for workers' compensation case management, and I was the only one that did it in a pretty large organization. And whenever I would need to leave, like say a vacation or... I kept a list of critical things like this is how you do these things that I would always give to my manager and say, okay, I'm going to be away if something happens, here's what you need to deploy. That cross training piece. And so people can be thinking about that. I think that's a really a great idea. Particularly with high hazard job functions or even if they're going to bring in temporary workers that the safety professional needs to be involved in that.

Deborah:

Exactly.

Jill:

Can you talk about developing a method for monitoring and tracking COVID-19 worker absences. What does that mean?

Deborah:

Well, and this is interesting because depending on whether your work groups are actually salaried or hourly, you may or may not be tracking absences regularly through some kind of electronic means. And in this case you need to know if people are out because of suspected COVID-19 cases. And you want to keep it confidential in terms of not telling everybody who might be out for that particular illness. But the idea is you need to know how many you have. And so whatever system you can develop or have in place will help you to understand that.

So for example, in a given day, if you start having 20 and 40 and 60 people out, as opposed to usually in a given day, in a large workplace have 20 out, and now you're seeing 60 or a 100, you need to know that. You need to know what those numbers are so that you can determine how many people do you need, and in which jobs to run that operation. There is a tipping point in most companies. So, for example, let's say it's 10%. So if 10% of your workforce is out at any given time, you may not have enough critical mass of people to do the job. Or you may end up with only being able to do a portion of the work that that company does. So it's important to actually understand how deep the absences are in order to then plan the work.

Jill:

Yeah, and what a skilled version may look like.

Deborah:

Right. And what's interesting is that, that's an issue right now in health care. So what's happening is that when somebody is potentially exposed in healthcare, there, I think a lot of healthcare organizations are sending people home and asking them to isolate for 14 days. The challenge is that those people may not be sick, but they may have been exposed to a potential case. The challenges over long period of time, if this continues, there won't be enough healthcare workers in a given institution to actually do the work. The same goes in a traditional employer. A lot of organizations need a certain mass of employees, and actually to have the ability to carry out the work, whether it's services or manufacturing or warehousing or whatever, construction, whatever it may be.

Jill:

You talk in the article about designating a space in the workplace for people who may become sick and cannot leave immediately. Can you talk about why that's important and people are trying to picture like, how would I do that or where would that be? Can you talk about that?

Deborah:

Yeah. I think depending on the workplace, if there is an onsite health facility, that's the obvious sort of situation. You can have someone there that you've designated a room that you have them stay there until they've gotten themselves sorted out to leave. But also in any general office area, for example, you might have a small facility that would work for that purpose. And the idea is just to have a space that is not in the midst of the rest of the employees, so that if the individual is coughing and so forth, that they can do so in a safe location. That can just be then sanitized afterwards.

Jill:

There's a lot of talk about social distancing as well. Can you speak about what social distancing means and creating space around people and why that's important as well, in case that's vernacular that people aren't familiar with.

Deborah:

Sure. And I am seeing that people are asking more about social distancing and what it is. To me, it's just natural because like I said, we went through this in 2009, but I'm realizing that people don't know that terminology even in the health and safety world. So it really is creating space between people so that if someone is coughing, for example, the spray from the cough doesn't then, or those droplets don't actually land on you. And that's really all that is. There is different information. For the most part, three feet is the typical distance that droplets will move from an individual, but it can be up to six feet. So in healthcare we generally have used six feet as the distance. For practical purposes out in the community, generally we use three feet.

And so the idea is, in a workspace, if you're in office spaces, you want to keep people at least that distance apart so that if indeed they do have something that where they have sputum that's traveling, then it actually limits that possibility. So the idea here is if you have a situation where someone actually is coughing or potentially sneezing, you don't want those droplets to actually move to another individual.

And that's really all social distancing is. And in a typical workspace, that means putting the actual office spaces at a distance. Or if you're in a warehouse, or in manufacturing, it means people not working side by side. Maybe you skip every other workstation. The other way to do that is to actually stagger work schedules or do what's called...

... To actually stagger work schedules or do what's called ghost shifting. Ghosts shifts mean that you're actually separating one group of people from another group of people. So let's say that you have a first shift operation and a second shift operation. You actually have let's say an hour in between the two. So the first group leaves and then the second group comes in an hour later there's no crossover.

Jill:

Makes sense.

Deborah:

Now that can create some other issues.

Jill:

Right, right, sure. Of course, it's continuity of workflow. I'm picturing a manufacturing facility and picturing a meat processing facility in my mind right now as you're speaking.

Deborah:

Correct. The other thing that you can do is you could actually, depending on, in food processing, they technically do this all the time. They have usually a first and second shift and then the third shift is a sanitation shift. So they just sanitize the plant. But the idea with staggering work schedules or shifts is that you actually can have space in between where people are not in contact. That's really the idea. It is part of the social distancing concept. The most obvious kind of social distancing is postponing nonessential meetings so that you don't cram 10 people in a room for an hour or two.

You can use email and conference calls and these days you can do any kind of online meeting. There's a whole variety of them out there. So those things are often feasible. The most obvious one in a office setting, which I think a lot of employers have already implemented is telework. We've heard now on the news that a variety of the big technology companies have asked their employees to work from home and they're teleworking. The key with that is that you really need to be sure that you have the sufficient bandwidth of the system and the people have the right equipment and know how to use it.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). The things that you're talking about with social distancing and staggered work schedules a lot of that sounds like what safety professionals already know. We're just haven't necessarily, maybe some of us not framed it in that way before, distancing three to six feet. That sounds like something that we would add in for fall protection plans your safety distance for something. The staggering work schedule sounds like things that we implement with the hierarchy of controls, we're just framing this a little bit differently in this case.

Deborah:

Exactly.

Jill:

Yeah. So can you also talk about how employers might consider other support services for their employees, like employee assistance programs, that kind of thing, how they can be helpful?

Deborah:

Sure. One of the things that companies often don't think about, and I think it's our responsibility in health and safety, is really how do we support our employees? There is a lot of fear right now. People don't know where to turn for accurate information. There's an explosion on social media which is causing other people distress, just because of the volume of information and how fast it keeps changing. So we do need to support those employees. Usually in most companies there is an employees assistance program for that purpose. What health and safety professionals may have not thought about is that this can be done by a distance means. So for example, you could use conference calls or you could for group sessions, you could also do individual calls with someone who's stressed by this situation. There also are other video conferencing means that can be used as well.

Deborah:

The same can be done for healthcare. So I was looking today, there actually are some healthcare organizations in addition to telling people to call before they come in if they have symptoms, they're actually doing the tele-medicine calls with those individuals so they can actually see them and interact with them through video, as opposed to just talking to them on the phone. So the same could be done for an onsite medical facility or external facilities for employees if they have healthcare needs, whether they're related to COVID-19 or not, in order to get that care. That might be a safe way to do it.

Jill:

Right, right, right. So for employees who maybe are suffering from anxiety, the EAP programs and the various ways to access that, those are great tips as well as for employers who offer their employees health insurance and they have those telemedicine avenues that are available. But maybe people haven't tapped into them before. Now is the time to be able to really talk with employees how to access that information or those services rather.

Deborah:

I think this is a great opportunity to market those services, because it is something that is really necessary right now because otherwise we're going to overwhelm the healthcare system with what we call the worried well.

Jill:

Yeah, right, right. Deborah, for maybe companies who are in the midst of thinking, gosh, we have this event coming up, we have this... an all hands meeting coming up or we're hosting something at our facility and they're wondering, "Oh, do we cancel? Do we postpone it? What should we be doing right now?" What sort of considerations should people be thinking about for those kinds of things right now?

I think for large events right now it really depends on where you are and whether there is a high density of cases in that particular area. If there is a high density of cases and they're under an emergency declaration in that area, probably not a good idea to have a large event at this point. What I would suggest is that the safety and health professionals keep in touch with their local public health partners so that they know what is actually being recommended in that particular area.

There are some parts of the US where there have been no cases identified. Now that's probably not going to continue forever, but the fact is there are higher risk and there are a lower risk areas. So you may not need to actually shut down events in some areas just because of either the type of event, for example, it may be an outdoor event or just an area that is at lower risk. So I think the local public health partners are really helpful to give you a sense of what else is happening there and what kind of concerns there may be. In some cases the concern for bringing in large numbers of people from outside to a particular area is not because there is necessarily fear, it may be that the health care system in that area is not large enough to support it if indeed they had large numbers of people that were ill at an event.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, makes sense. So you just gave a great tip about using local health organizations to find out what's happening in an area. And so when we go back to what we started with on trusted resources and information, you had identified the World Health Organization for global information and the CDC in the United States and then there are state and county. So if employers and people who are listening are thinking, "What do I look for? What do I Google for a county health?" What search terms would they be using to find that information for their local community?

Deborah:

Yeah, generally and it does vary, there are county, parish and state level-

Jill:

Yeah exactly, that's what I was thinking.

Deborah:

... Public health areas, so depending on how the structure is set up in your particular area. So for example, when I lived in North Carolina, it's set up by county and there are a 100 counties and they each have their own. Here where I live in Maine, we have a state level Center for Disease Control and they are managing it from here. There are some County Public Health Departments, but they all work directly with the state level agency. So I would say depending on what the structure is, if you have more of a county or a parish focus in your state, that's where I would go to look for public health and I would Google that for that particular area. Otherwise, I would start at the state level.

Jill:

Right. Yeah, that's a great tip. I was listening to a press conference last week in my home state of Minnesota and we had our first case identified last week and it was really interesting to watch exactly what you're talking about. So the governor representing the state opened and he passed immediately to the State Health Department who within the health department passed to their infectious disease specialist who then passed to the county health person. It was very clear the chain of command and how granular it can get and where you go for information and I think it's great that you're pointing out that it can be different in different states as well and to get familiar with that.

Deborah:

Hopefully each of those organizations has their own plan and have executed their plan and that they're working together. That's really critical that at a state level that even if they have separate county plans, that they all work together so that there's a unified voice.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's exactly what they were talking about, which was very reassuring. It was very reassuring to watch that happen. Some of the other things that you talk about having in a plan are things that impact the workplace back at home and what should be included for employees if they can't come to work and how do we take care of those families?

Deborah:

Yeah, I think the idea with that is that if indeed someone is sick and they can't come to work, I mentioned earlier, hopefully there's been identified the need to pay people so that they are comfortable staying home and that they have the resources that they need. The idea is that if the local schools, for example, are closed because the Public Health Department has determined that that's the right approach based on a case for example, the parents may need to have childcare or they may need to stay home to take care of their children. So there are other reasons that you want people to stay home, not necessarily just because they're sick, but they may be actually taking care of children in that situation as well. So I think it's important for companies to really think about that and pay attention to the fact that people are going to be stressed because of other effects that are happening around that workplace.

Deborah:

The same goes with travel, so if you think about, if you've had employees working in other parts of the world where there's a really high incidence of cases, when they come back to the US most employers right now are actually asking that those individuals stay at home and isolate for two weeks and not come into the workplace. They may or may not be able to do telework. Most people that are going to do that kind of travel typically can work from home and that's a benefit so that you don't bring potential cases into the workplace.

Now, one of the things to keep in mind is that the latency period for this disease is something between two and 14 days. For most people it's been five days and latency just means the time from exposure to symptoms. So in that case, if you have been to a country where there's a high incidence or in a particular area of the US that there's a high incidence, if you've been isolated at home for two weeks, you should be safe to go back into the workplace and not actually expose others. That's something, I think that whole idea of protecting the whole group is something we need to ingrain as safety and health professionals with the leadership in the organization as well as with employees that that's really the reason for doing it.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). There's a lot of talk right now about seasonal influenza and that we all have seasonal influenza and everything's fine, we go about our work, whatever, this isn't a big deal, it's the whole big deal and comparing it to seasonal influenza. However, with seasonal influenza, we are actively protecting the herd, if you will, through vaccinations, which we don't have in this case. Would you say, Deborah, it's not fair necessarily to compare the two?

Deborah:

You're right. I mean, I think the difference with a novel virus, which is what COVID-19 is, it's a virus that none of us have been exposed to before throughout the world. So the fact is that it is an unknown, both from our body's response as well as in the community. So until we have more data on this particular infectious disease, the challenge is you can't directly compare it with flu. The similarity I would say between the two with seasonal influenza and COVID-19 is it is disproportionately impacting the elderly and those with what we call co-morbidity, so they have other underlying diseases. In both cases, the elderly with underlying disease are adversely impacted. They're the ones who will potentially die from either one. The difference with flu or influenza, seasonal influenza is that younger people will get influenza as well and school children will get influenza.

What's really interesting in this case is that we are not seeing with COVID-19 a disproportionate amount of children getting COVID-19. That is very different than flu. To your point with vaccines, influenza vaccine really reduces the potential for influenza in the community if you have herd immunity. So if you have enough people that are actually immunized, that will protect those who can't get immunized for other health reasons. So that is really helpful.

It also means that if you do get sick, you likely won't get as sick and you also may have a lower amount of viral load, meaning that you're less contagious to others. So those things I think are really important to remember. I have people ask me all the time, "Well, how come I got the flu shot and I still got sick two months later?" Well, the fact is that the current flu shot is protection for four different strains of influenza. Depending on the year, given the fact that they have to make decisions in the spring for what the vaccine's going to include, you never know by fall and winter if that particular virus is going to change.

So if it changes over time, it may not be a 100% match with the vaccine by the time you get the vaccine. But it is just a function of the system right now and the way we actually produce seasonal flu vaccine. Hopefully at some point in the future we'll have a vaccine that doesn't need to be injected annually, but the fact is that's where we are right now. This current one, for example, two of the viruses that are included in the vaccine were a 100% matches. Two of them were not.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so we're having some coverage, definitely. Definitely. So with COVID- 19 it's really on all of us to be good stewards and caretakers of our brothers and sisters.

Deborah:

Exactly. I think the idea here is we're all in this together and as a community, as a global community, the more we do to actually protect those who are otherwise at risk, in this case for COVID-19, it's primarily the elderly and those with preexisting conditions like cardiovascular conditions and respiratory conditions and immunosuppression. The only way we can protect those individuals that are high risk is to separate ourselves if we're ill from others who are not.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. So Deborah, one of the other things you talk about in the article is establishing communication protocols at work, which is also part of protecting one another. So can you talk about communication protocols and what safety professionals may be working on with their companies?

Deborah:

Sure. Interestingly enough, I think most safety and health professionals actually do think about if we have weather, how are we going to notify people?

Jill:

Yeah, right?

Deborah:

Yeah, I mean we're used to that stuff, right? Unfortunately, recently there were tornadoes, there are hurricanes, there are all kinds of other weather situations. Up here in the frigid north we have snow and snow storms. So the idea is that we're used to identifying how do we notify people about those kinds of things. This is really no different. If your company has a system in place to notify, it may be an email system or a text system, that same system can be used to notify employees about pandemic information. So the key is to identify do you have a system in place and if so, do you have all the information to actually contact people?

So one of the things I know from my time at L.L.Bean is that we had software that we used and employees could log in, clock in and clock out and that's also how they got information. They could in that system also put in their email and or their mobile phone numbers in order to be notified. But it's voluntary, so you have to do constant marketing for people to put their information in. That's really critical because in this kind of a situation, you may want to target messages to your employee population, specific to the building they're in or the state they're in, if it's a large company or a specific campus for example.

So if you have that data already available, you can easily then quickly message everybody through their devices. That is so much easier and so much more targeted. Traditionally for those of us in snow land, you had messages on the radio or messages on TV before employers who said, "This shift is canceled based on the blizzard." You can do the same kind of things locally through social media or through traditional TV, radio, newspapers. It's not as efficient and it's much more efficient if you can get to those employees directly.

Jill:

Right. So many people have some kind of electronic device, many with cell phones now that that would make a lot of sense to be gathering that information, gathering phone numbers if employees are willing to give you that. You talk about creating an effective telework policy and I know you've touched on that a number of times while we've been talking. Is there anything that specifically you'd like to share about telework policies for people who are considering that?

Deborah:

I think the big thing with telework is to have a policy. A lot of employers, for example, the last few years, some employers are moving towards telework. Some employers have moved back from telework, it's gone both ways.

Jill:

Right.

Deborah:

The fact is that you really need to understand your system and what your system can support. So for example, if you have to have encryption of the data that goes back and forth from your employees on their devices, for example, do you have enough capacity to have thousands of people telework? If indeed they are doing that, can you just support emailing or can you support video conferencing, for example? Because you have to know what your capacity is in order to determine that and give direction.

Jill:

Yeah, right. Why it's so important to include that IT person on the team when you said talking [inaudible] business continuity or pandemic planning earlier. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Deborah:

Exactly. So you may only have a certain number of devices that you-

Exactly. You may only have a certain number of devices that your system can support or just certain kinds of work on there. Those are things you need to know ahead of time in order to support it. Having worked for a retail company that has call centers, we have a lot of people that actually answer the phone from home and not necessarily from a call center office. In those cases, you need to know how many of those people you can have running. Do you have enough capacity in the system? Can you support it? Things like if they have problems with their system, do you have enough tech support people that they can email or call to get help?

Jill:

Yeah, part of the business continuity planning, and if you have a certain percentage of that group that are ill or affected, then who's doing that work?

Deborah:

Exactly, because not all of us are completely tech savvy.

Jill:

I'm raising my hand. Deborah, let's talk about how we educate, how we as safety and health professionals can educate our employees on prevention measures. How can we prevent things from spreading or happening? What are those things safety people can be talking about now?

I think most safety people are pretty familiar with the those techniques. Basically, you want to use the hierarchy of controls to determine how you're going to protect people. In most cases, what we're trying to do is to protect the mass of people. For example, we're not going to put everybody in respirators in order to not be exposed to each other. You really need to do the social distancing we talked about, but also make sure that things are cleaned. Any high touch areas such as door handles and railings and keyboards. Particularly if you have workstations that are used by different people on different shifts or other equipment. You want to be sure those things are actually cleaned. The good news with this COVID-19 virus is that it actually is easily killed just by the normal disinfectants that are used in any business.

The key here is to get things clean more frequently. This is an issue anyway at this time of the year because of colds and flu. It's something to keep in mind that we really need to be sure that people are comfortable. I'm getting all kinds of emails from all of my airlines that I'm-

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I got some today.

Deborah:

That I fly on telling me about their cleaning procedures and their HEPA filtering of air and so forth on the plane. I think that's important for employees to understand. Not just making sure that it gets done. That means you may need to work with your facilities groups to make sure they understand what the high touch areas are and that things get clean but also the idea that people understand what you're doing about it so that they feel comfortable. I think that's really, those two pieces go together. We're telling everybody to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly for 20 seconds and how to do it and sing happy birthday twice. Some companies are having contest in what songs do you sing?

Jill:

That's awesome.

Deborah:

I've seen all kinds of things, which I think is great. It's a fun way to remind people.

Jill:

Right.

Deborah:

I mean, everybody I've talked to have talked about how they've never washed their hands so much but that's good. I'm just as careful when I am away and traveling, I'm worried about touching my eyes, nose and mouth. That's making me more anxious than anything.

Jill:

Realizing the number of times you touch your face in a day.

Deborah:

Exactly. I'm really trying to pay attention to that and just practicing good respiratory hygiene. I have a cough year round, so I'm very careful to cough into my elbow or into a tissue and throwing the tissue away right away. I think that's really important. I think that it does make people nervous when there are people coughing around you. You don't necessarily know why they're coughing.

Jill:

Right, right, exactly. I think your point is excellent in letting your employees know if you're doing extra cleaning, you're doing disinfection, to let employees know that that's happening and or even include them. I mean, that would not be a bad thing to have employees included in cleaning. Correct?

Deborah:

Right. Particularly if you have your own workstation. Having wipes available for them so that they can clean their own workstations. I think it's also important to focus on the hand washing piece and not just on the hand sanitizer, particularly since there's been such hoarding going on with hand sanitizer. I think it's really important that people understand that hand washing is better anyway. The whole idea with, and I'm seeing all the recipes for hand sanitizer, the fact is you only need to use hand sanitizer if you're out and about and you can't wash your hands. If that's the case, then that's when you use it. Otherwise, if you're home or at work, you should be able to wash your hands.

Jill:

Right? Right. I've got hand sanitizer but I only have it in my car because I don't have access to soap and water then.

Deborah:

Right. That's where mine is too.

Jill:

Yeah, and when I come into my house, I've set up a little station if you want to wipe something off as you're coming in with some alcohol, we can do that. The bottle I bring to the gym every day before I march it and set it all over my house, I'm going to clean that off.

Deborah:

Yeah, exactly. I'm doing exactly the same thing. I have my tea that I bring to the gym. I've been making sure that I clean that stainless container.

Jill:

Let's talk a little bit more about, a lot of other things that we're hearing right now is preparing, preparing to be at home for a period of time, which is where this whole hoarding mentality is coming from. When I'm hearing about this and thinking about it, I think as someone from a snowy state, like you said earlier, those of us who know we have to hunker down sometimes because of a big snow storm, we're already prepared for that. I think of how to prepare to be at home for a couple of weeks in the same way I would for, we're going to have a big blizzard. Can you talk about what people might be having on hand? In lieu of hoarding things for a month supply or whatever.

Deborah:

Exactly. I think you're exactly right. I look at it as the same sort of thing as there's going to be a snow storm and we're going to be stuck at home. It really is having nonperishable food available and toiletries for a couple of weeks. If you have pets, for example, making sure you have everything on hand for them as well. Everything they might need during a two week period of time, you can have available. I'm not talking about strange food. I'm talking about the same usual stuff that you and your family eat normally that you would use eventually anyway. That's what I'm talking about by nonperishable food. Now, some people look at this as that's just the license to do junk food, but maybe a few-

Jill:

Because it doesn't expire.

Deborah:

Yeah. Because it doesn't expire ever, but the reality is we're just looking at typical nonperishable food so you have a larger supply. Then the more important thing is having sufficient supply of prescription medicine, again, for family members and pets so that if you needed to be home for a couple of weeks, you've got enough meds and nobody's got to go out for that. Then if somebody does have a fever, having Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen available for that, for fever control. Part of that is that you also should have on hand is a thermometer. You may not think about that. Some of us may have old mercury ones around still, the glass ones, but they do work. Just be careful with them. Having a thermometer is really important because you may need to take your temperature if you start with symptoms so that you can identify whether you're a case or not.

Jill:

Right. Right.

Deborah:

Then the other important piece is if you have a household with children, considering what your alternate childcare arrangements are. If one parent, for example, if it's a two-parent household and one parent gets sick, who could take care of the children just so that they can be separated from the ill parent. Then finally, because of who actually gets sick with this particular COVID-19, it's really important as part of the plan to check on elderly family members and friends and see if they have appropriate resources. They may not be aware of what they need to do and they may not have focused on what the risks are to them. I think that's really important to keep in mind is this is part of, we're all in this together, that we need to really think about who else can we support in this process to make sure they have what they need.

Deborah:

If you have elderly parents or grandparents, have you checked on them to make sure they know what the symptoms are. Have they prepared for this? Do they know that in their community it may not be a good idea for them to go out to large events if they're high risk.

Jill:

Such as church.

Deborah:

Such as church. Some churches are doing a fabulous job telling people right up front what the change in the rules are in order to social distance. Some are not doing as good job with that. Some churches and religious facilities are actually canceling services in order to provide social distancing and doing those services virtually. There's been a whole variety of different responses. If it is a high risk community, it may not be a good idea for someone who is elderly and has comorbid conditions to be out in an area where there's crowds.

Jill:

You're right. This is exactly the conversation I had with my mother yesterday. We went over all of those things that you talked about, talked about supplies, talked about medications on hand, talked about social distancing and attendance at houses of worship and that kind of thing. It really is, we are brother and sister's keeper.

Deborah:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I did exactly the same thing.

Jill:

Some of the other things that you talk about in the article are about travel precautions. Do you want to touch on some of those things?

Deborah:

Well, interestingly enough, most employers that I'm aware of in the U.S. have now determined that international travel is for the most part non-essential. Companies have eliminated that, that risk for the most part. If there is still essential travel that's going on, most employers are actually having those employees as I mentioned earlier, when they come back into the country, stay at home for two weeks and monitor at home and take their temperature and so forth. Because more than 80% of people that get COVID-19 will actually have mild symptoms, it's going to be difficult to over time to identify really how many people had this disease. Because from what I'm hearing, some people just have very minor illness and it's not obvious at all. It's really important to still do the social distancing in this case, which is stay at home for 14 days so that it does protect other people in the workplace. That's something I think that most employers are already doing and that seems like that's been pretty consistent. The piece that is new is really travel within the U.S. and that's sort of all over the map. Some employers are saying no travel domestically to large scale gatherings like conferences. Others are saying you can do normal travel except for high risk areas, for example, Washington state. That has varied drastically and I think companies really need to look at, again, essential and non-essential travel to determine what's appropriate. It really depends on where and why the travel is occurring. Travel in general is not a high risk as long as the individuals are not in those high risk groups, meaning elderly and or have underlying disease.

Jill:

Right, right. Makes sense. Makes sense. As we're rounding out our time today, Deborah, how about we end with what not to do? What not to do or maybe some of those myths if there's any that you'd like to bust now?

Deborah:

Well, I'll do a pitch for WHO. They actually do have a really good myth busting section.

Jill:

Okay. I haven't seen that yet. All right. Great.

Deborah:

That actually there is a link in the article to it and I think it's a great piece. They also have in it downloadable materials so that you can post it and share the graphic, which I really like.

Jill:

Fantastic.

Deborah:

Based on the fact that I live in Maine, the first one is my favorite, cold weather and snow cannot kill the new coronavirus.

Jill:

Nice. Okay.

Deborah:

Taking a hot bath does not prevent the new coronavirus.

Jill:

Nice. Oh my gosh.

Deborah:

The new coronavirus cannot be transmitted through goods manufactured in China or any country reporting COVID-19 cases.

Jill:

Nice. You know what this is reminding me of? It's reminding me of, my background is in community health education, my undergrad degree, the Wayback machine, I worked very hard on AIDS and HIV education and prevention. There were so many crazy myths at that time, in early nineties.

Deborah:

I remember that.

Jill:

Yeah. This sounds very familiar to that. Okay. What else do you have?

Deborah:

The new coronavirus cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites. That's a new one.

Jill:

I have not heard that.

Deborah:

Are hand dryers effective in killing coronavirus? Actually the answer is no. Can ultraviolet disinfection lamps kill the new coronavirus? Basically they say, don't use them to sterilize the hands or the skin for obvious reasons. It can be used on surfaces. There are a whole variety of other questions, some of which most the safety professionals will get a kick out of. Can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill the new coronavirus?

Jill:

Oh wow. I hope no one does that. Okay.

Deborah:

I hope no one does that either.

Jill:

Especially near any ignition source.

Deborah:

Then there's some practical ones. Do vaccines against pneumonia protect you from coronavirus? The answer is no. Those are the kinds of things. There were a whole variety of them. They keep adding them in here. As I said, the link is to WHO. It is in the article, and it is Myth-busters is what it's called.

Jill:

Wonderful. Wonderful.

Deborah:

That's my entertainment is to look at that periodically.

Jill:

We do have an interesting profession, don't we?

Deborah:

I know.

Jill:

What's entertaining to us. Deborah, anything else you'd like to add today?

Deborah:

I think for safety professionals, my final recommendation is really to think of this as an opportunity to collaborate with your coworkers from different disciplines and work together to do the planning that your organization needs. Not only for this virus but for other outbreaks in the future. We learn from each of these and this is a great opportunity. Particularly, if you don't have cases in your community or communities where your plants are yet, this is a great opportunity to learn how to really put together a good plan and to then execute that plan. I think we're all going to have that opportunity, good, bad or otherwise to do that. I really think it's something that we can improve on over time with that experience.

Jill:

Thank you. For anyone who's wanting to remember the name of the article that I've been referencing, it's called, The Safety Professional's Role in Planning for a Pandemic, and we'll include it in the show notes. You can also find it at the American Society of Safety Professionals' website. They have a special tab called coronavirus now. You'll be able to find it there as well as links to the other articles that Deborah has been talking about, including the one that she authored titled preparing for pandemic, lessons from H1N1. Just as a reminder, when we're talking about making a plan, Deborah had mentioned the CDC right now has specific guidance documents for specific types of industries as well. That's another reminder that you can do that. Deborah, I am hoping that you will come back to the show and we can do what we normally do with safety and health professionals, which is ask you to share your story about how you came to be in this place that you are.

Deborah:

I'd be happy to do that.

Jill:

Wonderful. Maybe we can talk about when you are the president of ASSP, and congratulations on being president-elect.

Deborah:

Thank you very much.

Jill:

Thank you for spending your time listening today. More importantly, thank you for your contribution, making sure your workers, including your temporary workers, make it home safe every day. If you'd like to join the conversation about this episode or any of our previous episodes, you can follow our page and join the Accidental Safety Pro community group on Facebook. If you're not subscribed and want to hear past and future episodes, you can subscribe on iTunes, the Apple podcast app, or any other podcast player that you'd like. You can also find all of the episodes at vividlearningsystems.com/podcast. We'd love it if you could leave a rating and review us on iTunes. It really helps us connect to the show with more and more safety professionals like you and I. If you have a suggestion for a guest, including if it's you, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. Until next time, thanks for listening.