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It’s no secret that offices are prime sites for the spread of bacteria and viruses. In pre-Covid times, we’ve all experienced some bug going around the office once or twice in the cold season, only now the outcome from contracting one is more dangerous than ever. It’s our responsibility (and right) to follow preventive measures to avoid the spread of the virus—for the sake of ourselves, our loved ones, and our colleagues.
Despite vaccines being widely available, currently, 63% of office workers say they don’t yet feel comfortable returning to work. One in 10 U.S. employees says that nothing would make them feel comfortable working in a space with other people.
These numbers suggest that many of us aren’t sure how to protect ourselves in the workplace during the pandemic. To offer you some guidance on staying safe in the workplace, I’ve prepared a list of preventive measures you can take to protect yourself and everyone around you.
1. Keep an Eye on Air Quality
If you feel that air in a room is stuffy, the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are most likely up, and it’s time to let some fresh air in. Small spaces can quickly build up carbon dioxide from breath, and it’s acknowledged that the CO2 levels in the air are indicators for the risk of transmission of diseases, including Covid-19. Therefore, adequate air quality is one of the main prerequisites of staying safe in the workplace.
If you aren’t a decision-maker within the company, ask your employer to invest in a device that monitors indoor air quality and CO2 concentration. If they aren’t convinced, show them proof that stuffy air isn’t only unpleasant—it’s also a health hazard. The bottom line is that air monitoring is a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of infection with any virus and Covid-19, in particular.
You can also expect employers to take measures to improve the office ventilation systems to help you protect yourself in the workplace during the pandemic. If this is not possible right away, suggest creating schedules for ventilating the rooms every hour and reducing the number of people sitting in each room. (More on that later.)
2. Wash and Sanitize Your Hands
It’s established that handwashing with soap is one of the most effective ways to stay safe in the workplace and steer clear of Covid-19 and many other common viruses. As installing sinks all over the office isn’t usually a feasible option, hand sanitizers (with at least 60% of alcohol) are the next best thing for fighting the spread of viruses.
In addition, use sanitizer wipes before you touch any office equipment, like printers, coffee machines, water coolers, etc. Carry a small sanitizer spray with you for situations where a disinfectant bottle isn’t nearby.
3. Keep a Distance From Other Colleagues
One of the good things coming out of the pandemic is that it’s no longer acceptable for too many office workers to be crammed in one room. It’s your right to demand space of at least six feet (or two meters) around your desk. If this is impossible, ask for dividers to be installed between your desk and your neighbors.
Remember, it’s nothing personal. You are only looking for ways to protect yourself in the workplace during a pandemic. Furthermore, you could be the infected party without even suspecting it.
You can suggest splitting work hours into shifts of smaller teams, thus reducing the number of people working simultaneously in the office. Most companies can achieve this by introducing hybrid work weeks for each employee with some office days and some remote workdays.
If remote work is impossible, your employers should try to split employees into shifts, with some arriving earlier and others leaving later.
4. Wear Masks During Meetings
Naturally, when you work with very few colleagues in the same room each day, the danger of getting sick is lower than when you’re meeting with the broader team in a closed meeting room. In other words, meeting fewer people indoors is one of the main ways to protect yourself in the workplace.
Ideally, your management should avoid meetings with many participants or add a part of the employees via video conferencing. For on-site participants, strict precautions should be observed, like wearing masks, hand sanitizing, and restricting the length of meetings.
5. Stay Home at the Slightest Sign of Illness
Another lesson that the pandemic taught us—you’re not a hero for showing up at work sick. On the contrary, you are exposing your co-workers to unnecessary risk, in addition to harming your own health. The same applies to situations if you have a sick family member at home.
If you’re feeling just a little under the weather, inform your manager that you’ll be working from home just to stay on the safe side. If you feel sick or exhausted, simply say you need a day off to assess how serious your condition is.
Encourage your colleagues to follow suit and stay home if they’re feeling 50-50—even if it seems that they’ve only caught a cold. If staying safe in the workplace isn’t an option, stay home yourself to avoid meeting the colleague with the “cold.”
This doesn’t mean you have to panic whenever you hear a co-worker sneeze and throw angry looks at them. But it’s your right to express concern when you see someone sick showing up for work.
6. Avoid Meeting Office Visitors
In normal times, most offices had outside visitors, e.g., clients, partners, independent contractors, and suppliers. Today, there should be a strict protocol for such outsiders who enter your usual “bubble.”
For example, they should wear protective masks at all times, disinfect hands upon arrival, and fill in self-health questionnaires. If there are many visitors, suggest that your management install wellness monitoring equipment at the entrance, like thermometers or rapid Covid-19 test kits.
7. Water Cooler Chat at a Distance
Most of us know that social distancing is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself in the workplace during a pandemic. However, once we’re back in the comfort of the office, we can forget the health hazards and find ourselves going back to our old habits.
Ideally, your management will have signage in place to encourage social distancing at popular office spots like printers, copiers, and coffee machines.
For example, small circles or lines of tape on the floor are a creative way to remind people about the distance they should keep to stay safe in the workplace. If the kitchen or printer room is small, there should be a clearly stated limit of how many people can enter.
Always remember that it’s up to you to keep a distance and protect yourself in the workplace. If a co-worker comes too close to you, respectfully, step back or excuse yourself and leave the room. Alternatively, put on a mask for an extra level of protection.
Is Staying Safe in the Workplace Mission Impossible?
The good news is that it’s possible to protect yourself in the workplace during a pandemic by following the simple rules I’ve outlined here, especially if your management is responsible and genuinely cares about the wellbeing of their employees. Just be extra cautious, especially during these times, as this will help prevent you from further troubles in the future.
More Tips Related to the Pandemic
Featured photo credit: Anastasiia Chepinska via unsplash.com
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