It’s no secret that the outbreak and the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus had caused unprecedented disruption to businesses across the nation. Naturally, this unchartered business challenge brings significant changes to how employers train their staff and onboard new hires. Initially, when the pandemic began, training departments were mostly focusing on the continuity of operations. During that time, many companies saw a shift in how they conduct business, utilize work facilities, interact with the staff members and customers. Now that the rate of the new COVID-19 infections in the US is slowing and many businesses have already started to reopen or are planning to reopen, it’s a good time to think about what ongoing COVID-19 training your staff will need as they return to work. Additionally, the new staff members who will be joining your team may require post-COVID-19 training that is specific to how you conduct business in these new circumstances.
What additional staff training should you offer following the COVID-19 pandemic?
We have seen an influx of requests for elearning courses focusing on business reopening while keeping the staff and customers safe from possible infection. The training content that clients typically want to include in these courses can be roughly grouped into the following buckets:
COVID-19 Workplace Hygiene
Your training should include measures for protecting workers from exposure to, and infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. These measures depend on the type of work being performed and exposure risk, including potential for interaction with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and contamination of the work environment. Employers should offer infection control training based on a thorough hazard assessment, explaining appropriate combinations of engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent worker exposures.
Health and Safety Training
Train your staff to resume and continue business operations safely and responsibly with policies and recommendations that outline proper hygiene and social distancing measures. These policies and measures can include:
- Frequently washing the hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When soap and running water are unavailable, staff can use an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol. They should always wash hands that are visibly soiled.
- Employees should avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- They should practice good respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
- They should avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Team members who are sick should stay home.
- Staff should learn to recognize personal risk factors. Certain people, including older adults and those with underlying conditions such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19.
Employee Well-Being and Resiliency
One of the many disruptions of the current pandemic is a shift to working from home. With the new work surroundings come new challenges: how to stay focused despite new distractions and set new boundaries. The post-COVID-19 employee well-being and resiliency training can include anything from tips on healthy snacking in a home office to avoiding the workaholic trap. This information will help employees adjust to their new working environment and maintain a healthy work-life balance in an uncertain time.
As the events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak unfold, it’s understandable that your staff feels anxiety and stress. Information is rapidly changing and can be confusing, even scary. While some workers may successfully manage their anxiety levels, the ongoing situation can be overwhelming for everyone. Make sure to include tips on reducing stress and anxiety in your training program. Mental health and mindfulness are crucial elements for workers’ health during the pandemic, helping maintain not just physical health but emotional health, too. Staying relaxed can help your staff stay focused and in a healthy frame of mind, despite the uncertainty everyone is dealing with.
Managing Your Employees’ Symptoms
As your employees return to work, they may still have concerns about possible exposure to COVID-19 — and how to tell the difference between symptoms of the virus and other common illnesses. Make sure to address these issues in the training as they will help you and your workers not only recognize what symptoms to look for, but how to manage any situation when they have symptoms.
At a minimum, your staff should understand that they should call their healthcare provider if they:
- Feel sick with fever, cough, or have difficulty breathing.
- Have been in close contact with a person known or suspected to have COVID-19.
- Live in or recently traveled from an area with ongoing active spread or for which there are travel alerts.
Setting up and Maintaining the Work Area
It’s a good idea to train your employers to take appropriate precautions to create a safe, protected work area for themselves, customers, and visitors. This includes assessing exposure risk, potential exposure sources and transmission routes, and appropriate controls. Even something as simple as a short elearning module on proper workplace cleaning and maintenance procedures can go a long way towards ensuring the staff is empowered to protect themselves and those around them.
Federal Guidelines on Preventing COVID-19
The Federal government provides a variety of resources that can assist businesses in training their staff to ensure safe and efficient operations.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
One of the helpful resources you can reference when putting together the training content is OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. OSHA provides different guidelines for those with a lower risk of exposure as well as employees and businesses with a higher risk of exposure.
Guidance for Workers and Employers of Workers at Lower Risk of Exposure
For most types of workers, the risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 is similar to that of the general American public. Workers whose jobs do not require contact with people known to be, or suspected of being, infected with SARS-CoV-2, nor frequent close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) the general public are at lower risk of occupational exposure. Workers’ job duties affect their level of occupational risk, and such risk may change as workers take on different tasks within their positions.
Employers and workers in operations where there is no specific exposure hazard should remain aware of the evolving community transmission. Changes in community transmission may warrant additional precautions in some workplaces or for some workers not currently highlighted in this guidance.
Employers should monitor public health communications about COVID-19 recommendations, ensure that workers have access to that information, and collaborate with workers to designate effective means of communicating important COVID-19 information. Frequently check the OSHA and CDC COVID-19 websites for updates on topics your staff should be aware of.
Guidance for Workers and Employers of Workers at Increased Risk of Occupational Exposure
Certain workers are likely to perform job duties that involve medium, high, or very high occupational exposure risks. Many critical sectors depend on these workers to continue their operations. Examples of workers in these exposure risk groups include but are not limited to, those in healthcare, emergency response, meat and poultry processing, retail stores (e.g., grocery stores, pharmacies), and other critical infrastructure operations. These workers and their employers should remain aware of the evolving community transmission risk.
Workers’ job duties affect their level of occupational risk. Employers should assess the hazards to which their workers may be exposed; evaluate the risk of exposure; and, select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure. Control measures may include a combination of engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE. An effective training program should cover these topics.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
The CDC’s resources for businesses and workplaces provide guidance for resuming operations, cleaning and disinfecting, ongoing mitigation strategy, as well as prevention and support.
By utilizing the resources from CDC in the elearning courses, businesses and employers can prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace. As an employer, you should act in a way that takes into account the level of disease transmission in your community and revise your business response training as needed. You should follow the White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, a phased approach based on current levels of transmission and healthcare capacity at the state or local level, as part of resuming business operations. Business operation decisions should be based on both the level of disease transmission in the community and your readiness to protect the safety and health of your employees and customers.
Businesses and employers are encouraged to coordinate with state and local health officials to obtain timely and accurate information to inform appropriate responses. Local conditions will influence the decisions that public health officials make regarding community-level strategies. CDC has guidance for mitigation strategies according to the level of community transmission or impact of COVID-19.
As an employer, if your business operations were interrupted, resuming normal or phased activities presents an opportunity to update your COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control plans. All employers should implement and update as necessary a staff training that:
- Is specific to your workplace.
- Identifies all areas and job tasks with potential exposures to COVID-19.
- Includes control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures.
- Talks about planned changes that will affect the employees.
- Communicates other important COVID-19 information as needed.
US Chamber of Congress
The US Chamber of Congress offers ready-to-use resources you can include in your training to help the employees understand the new policies and procedures in place. The U.S. Chamber has compiled CDC’s coronavirus recommendations for businesses and workers across the country. You’ll find sharable graphics based on the CDC’s latest guidance for businesses and employees as well as Chamber’s small business guide. You are encouraged to share these assets on social media, websites, and other channels, and send them to your staff as needed.
The key messages of the Chamber’s resources are:
- What you can do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 at work.
- We all have a part to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- Make sure you are regularly practicing healthy habits.
- If you think you are getting sick with COVID-19, follow the guide to prevent spreading the virus to others.
- All employers should be prepared to address the impacts of the coronavirus, including planning for unexpected closures in your area and exploring telework options.
State Guidelines on Doing Business Post-COVID-19
In addition to the Federal resources, each US state provides each own set of guidelines and recommendations. Please make sure to check with your state for the information that should be included in the training.
You should offer your staff elearning courses focusing on business reopening guidelines, policies, and procedures that will help you keep the staff and customers safe from possible infection.
The post-COVID-19 training for staff can include various topics including Health and Safety Training, Employee Well-Being and Resiliency, Managing Your Employees’ Symptoms, Setting up and Maintaining the Work Area, Federal Guidelines on Preventing COVID-19, state and local resources, etc.
The Federal government provides a variety of resources that can assist businesses in training their staff to ensure safe and efficient operations. These include OSHA’s guidelines for staff with a lower risk of exposure as well as employees and businesses with a higher risk of exposure, the CDC’s resources for businesses and workplaces for resuming operations, cleaning and disinfecting, ongoing mitigation strategy, as well as prevention and support, etc.