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Workplace Health and Safety

What to Consider About Health and Safety When Returning to the Office

Richard Sarnie

COO, United Alliance Services and OccuMed

Being in the workplace post-COVID-19 will be very different than it was pre-pandemic. Now is the time for employers to take steps to protect the health of their employees and manage their risks.

“You can’t run the business without your employees, your Number 1 asset,” said risk management and safety consultant Richard Sarnie, COO of United Alliance Services and OccuMed. “So why wouldn’t you want to make sure that you protect your assets as best you possibly can? It’s small dollars to spend on protecting your Number 1 asset, but the risk you’re running is your entire livelihood of what you built.”

Assessing risk

First, perform a risk management assessment, including looking at the workflow of the building, the seating, the conference rooms, and the entrances and exits. Assess the health and safety risks of contracting the novel coronavirus on-site. Don’t forget to look at common areas as well, such as breakrooms. 

Sarnie says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires written health and safety plans for every workplace. Businesses have to meet personal protective equipment (PPE) standards, such as requiring gloves, and eye and face protection. 

How is the ventilation, including windows and doors that can be opened for fresh air? How will you clean commonly used surfaces and shared spaces? Sarnie recommends cleaning the office at least once or twice a day. Note that the Environmental Protection Agency requires specific disinfectants.

Next, consider how you will handle visitors and deliveries. Will temperature checks and PPE be required?

The last step is training employees on your health and safety plan, and documenting that they’ve been trained. Sarnie warns that in case of a complaint, OSHA will likely interview employees.

While there aren’t specific COVID-19 requirements for businesses, OSHA says employers are expected to comply with the general duty clause that requires employers to furnish employees with “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

He says OSHA has already cited many employers for not taking prudent actions in regard to COVID-19.

Companies can do their own risk assessments, plans, and training, or they can hire a consultant like Sarnie. Consultants keep detailed records, which can help you if a compliance problem arises.


Sarnie says COVID-19 will be a workplace gamechanger the same way 9/11 was. Both have changed the way we look at safety and manage risk. Moving forward, health and safety will be a priority, and having an outbreak prevention plan will be similar to having a plan for fires and emergencies.

He encourages workplaces to invest in the tools they will need to best execute their plans. That includes FDA-approved thermometers to take employees’ and guests’ temperatures. Workplaces may also consider offering COVID-19 testing.

In short, Sarnie says it’s critical to make a plan now. 

“We’re out here to help companies stay open,” Sarnie said. “We want them to stay open and we want their employees to be safe.”

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