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Task Force To Issue Best Practices on COVID-19 and Employee Safety

The National Safety Council (NSC) announced the creation of a task force this week to provide best practices for employee safety and returning to work amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The task force, dubbed Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER), is a partnership between NSC members, Fortune 500 companies, and safety organization and public health experts. It came together because when the NSC looked at its members, roughly 72 percent of them still had employees coming to work—despite mass shutdowns and stay home orders—because their work was considered essential.


“We needed to make sure they’re doing it safely,” says Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of NSC. And so, the task force was formed from NSC members that volunteered and other organizations that were specifically recruited due to their prominence in their industry. The NSC also looked to recruit organizations with a global presence who have been through the “arc of shutting down an operation and reopening,” Martin says.

“Those folks who have that experience, in other countries, can share those good lessons learned,” she says. “They brought in their own playbooks to inform us and help reduce trial and error.”

Beginning next week on the NSC’s website, the task force will issue free general and sector-specific playbooks on aligning worker safety during the coronavirus pandemic with business objectives. The guidance will identify complexities in reengaging the workforce—including contractors.

SAFER is “centered around workplace safety protocols and procedures we will need to have in place for some time,” Martin says. “We’re making sure we have a place for companies to get worker safety materials. If you don’t have a playbook, this can be a benchmark you can use to make that happen.”

One of the biggest concerns that the task force will be focused on is how organizations can continue their operations while also requiring employees to practice social distancing.

“We do expect that separation to be with us for some time—possibly months—so in the future, employees need to feel safe coming to work,” Martin explains, adding that many work environments were not designed to accommodate social distancing practices so they will need to adapt.


The task force will also focus on personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to stop the spread of the coronavirus and protect employees, without preventing them from doing their job safely. Giving employees confidence that they will be safe when they return to work will be paramount to reopening businesses and continuing operations, Martin adds.

“It’s so important that we get this right because how we navigate bringing employees back to work safely will in part guide how we get to the other side of this pandemic and this crisis for our nation,” she says. “We have to do this correctly. Employees have to come back safely, and they have to feel they can do their job in a safe environment. That will be the momentum that gets us through.”

The NSC is not alone with its plan to issue best practice guidance for organizations to address worker safety during the coronavirus. Late Thursday, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) issued a control center guide for critical infrastructure companies.


“This CISA guide provides considerations and mitigation measures that serve as a resource for operation centers and control rooms across the 16 critical infrastructure sectors,” says Brian Harrell, assistant director of CISA. “Within multiple sectors, these centers are critical to the reliable operations of essential services. As always, coordination with the appropriate federal, state, local and/or industry authorities to tailor solutions for operations centers and control rooms personnel is highly recommended.”

The guide makes a variety of recommendations, including identifying physically separated building entrances for mission-essential personnel; measuring employees’ temperatures before they begin work or enter facilities; and creating greater physical separation of operations center and control room operator workstations.

CISA also encourages, if possible, that critical infrastructure operators sequester and maintain a healthy shift or “reserve force” that is out of the normal rotation who can then step in when minimum staffing levels cannot be met.

Organizations are looking for best practice guidance on keeping employees safe and operations up and running during the pandemic, especially as some U.S. states begin to reopen and as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has largely been letting U.S. state regulators and companies handle safety measures.

“Former OSHA officials also note that the agency has not issued a so-called emergency temporary standard that would instruct employers across a variety of industries to put safety protocols into effect and raise the prospect of fines for failing to do so,” according to an analysis by The New York Times. “Such standards can govern physical setups, like whether to install barriers between workstations; workplace rules, like restrictions on the number of customers inside a store; and the use of protective equipment. A standard could even require stores to temporarily bar customers and switch to pickup and delivery only, though such a move would probably invite litigation.”

During a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, standards can help provide useful context and definitions to ensure that all those involved in an organizational response operate on a shared understanding, said Lisa DuBrock, CPP, managing partner at Radian Compliance, LLC, and vice chair of the ASIS Professional Standards Board.

“We’re in crisis mode now,” she said. “However, we are not always going to be in the crisis mode, and that’s when the standards become very valuable. They provide organizations the ability to stand up logical tried and true processes as they look toward recovery and returning to business.”

For more information on the coronavirus pandemic and security challenges, visit ASIS International’s coverage on the Disease Outbreak: Security Resources page.