If you’ve recently been given a return to work date, you may be feeling nervous or anxious about your safety at work. This is normal, but remember that knowledge is power; while the onus falls on your employer to establish prudent new protocols and safety measures for your workplace, you can also take an active role in mitigating your own risk of getting sick.
Of course, maintaining proper physical distancing at all times and continuing to be diligent about frequent and effective hand washing are vital in protecting ourselves and others. We encourage you to consider these safety tips, too:
1. Before you return
Ask your employer about the new protocols that will be in place at work, including cleaning procedures, scheduling changes, workstation setup and PPE use (for instance, will gloves and masks be provided, or are you expected to bring your own?). Having a clear picture of what to expect may help reduce uneasy feelings about going back, but if you ultimately do not feel safe about returning to work, contact your human resources department to discuss next steps.
2. On your way to work
When the weather is favourable, consider walking or cycling to work if possible, while being mindful of keeping extra space between other pedestrians and cyclists (more than two meters) in order to avoid droplets left in their pathways. If you need to take public transportation, wear a mask, sanitize your hands immediately before and after use, and do not board a vehicle that is too crowded to maintain proper physical distance between passengers.
3. In the elevator
Best practices for taking an elevator include wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands before and after pushing the button and ensuring no more than one other person is in the elevator with you.
4. In the bathroom
Because bathrooms typically contain a high concentration of viral droplets and aerosols, don’t use the bathroom right after someone else. To improve air circulation, leave the fan running and keep the windows open if there are any. If there is a toilet lid, close it before flushing to prevent viral aerosols from dispersing. It goes without saying that washing your hands thoroughly after using the washroom is essential, and be sure to use a paper towel to open the bathroom door upon exiting.
5. At lunch time
Many workplaces will be closing or restricting use of common kitchens within workplaces, but even if yours remains open, consider avoiding it. Instead, pack a lunch and snacks that do not require heat or refrigeration and eat outdoors or at your workspace, where you can ensure surfaces are sanitized. If you do eat near your desk, take care to create as much separation from work as possible while you enjoy your meal; close down your computer, listen to a great playlist or podcast, and do your best to treat lunch time as downtime.
Note: If you’re a coffee drinker and your office kitchen is open, use your own mug or thermos, and use a napkin or paper towel to push the buttons on the coffee machine or to handle the coffee pot. Wash or sanitize your hands before and after use as well.
6. Around your work station
In addition to keeping surfaces clean and sanitized, proper ventilation is a fundamental part of maintaining safe work spaces. Studies show that the spread of disease is reduced when ventilation is increased, so keep windows in your workplace open if possible and use a high-quality air purifier if available.
If your employer hasn’t already reconfigured the setup to maximize space between employees, take it upon yourself to reposition your work station (or insist that your employer do it), so that other employees are not directly facing you — even if they are six feet away. We know most droplets land within this space, but many don’t. Plexiglass or a physical barrier is key if employees need to be face-to-face, and is also important for side-to-side workspaces.
7. At home
When you return home, always leave your shoes at the door to avoid bringing contaminants from outside the home in, and wash your hands immediately before interacting with loved ones. Unless you work in a high-risk environment (in which case you would be aware of specific practices), it is not necessary to wash the clothes you wore to work; transmission through clothing is unlikely in low-risk workplaces where proper safety protocols are in place.
It is to be expected that, for those of us returning to work, this change in routine may lead to feelings of uncertainty and/or anxiety. Some of the most effective ways to protect our health during times of stress begin at home: prioritize sleep, nutrition, exercise and emotional well-being. Check out our blog for great resources on these topics.