Guidelines should still be followed while returning to work and school

August 6, 2020

by William Gleason, Editor

As many of us begin to venture back into work places and schools after months of working from home and living under quarantine, there is some natural trepidation and anxiousness about what the new normal will look like. To help ease the transition, whether it’s today or in the coming months, we have turned to Dr. Emily Haas for her professional advice. Haas is a senior research behavioral scientist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and program chair for the SME Health and Safety Division.

Back in April, Haas and CDR Marie A. Perio, MD, presented a webinar for SME in which they discussed the precautions that those working in the nation’s mines should be taking to stay safe from COVID-19 and what the perceptions of workers were at the time. That was near the start of the pandemic and while it seems like so much has changed in the world, much of the guidance given then remains in place — wear face coverings, practice social distancing (also known as physical distancing), wash your hands, stagger work shifts, clean surfaces, etc.

“The Centers for Disease Control director, Robert Redfield, has consistently said there are three things that we can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Haas said. “Maintain social distance of 2 m (6 ft) apart, wear a face covering and wash your hands. These are the three best tools that we have.”

However, after months of living through the pandemic, Haas said it is easy to overlook these steps as they have become routine. Therefore, it is helpful to provide colleagues, employees and students a refresher about the three most important tools:

  • Social distancing
  • Face coverings
  • Hygiene

Since the April webinar, Haas has continued to survey the mining industry about COVID-19 and has found that the new protocols and processes that have been put in place have helped the nation’s mines remain in production. However, the new processes are not always easy to implement.

“We’ve seen consistent concerns about not being able to physically distance from other coworkers. Depending on how closely employees with vastly different perceptions are working, this is causing tension,” said Haas. “From the data we have, hourly employees report being able to physically distance about 40-50 percent of the time on the job — and this was after new protocols were put in place.“

Because of the new protocols in mines, plants, offices and schools, Haas said it is important to have open communication, and pre-return-to-work or first-day-back trainings.

The need for situational awareness in this new normal is also very important.

“Reflection and action on ways that we, as an industry, can maintain this higher level of situational awareness with any newly introduced risk – not just COVID-19 – will be useful moving forward,” said Haas.

Haas, and Jessica Elzea Kogel, NIOSH associate director of mining will present a follow up webinar hosted by SME in late August that will include insight from expert panelist from the mining industry and the steps that they have taken to ensure safety at their mine sites.

Until then, some useful links from the CDC include:

Guidelines for resuming business, back to school, and worker safety

The role of organizational support and health work design – NIOSH science blog

Mining guidelines

Fact sheets