COVID-19 Resources

How to Run a Business Safely and Reduce the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19

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How to Run a Business Safely and Reduce the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19

Customers stand in a socially distanced line for the grocery store. Running small businesses safely during COVID-19 is possible.

Brenda Krauss is a Senior Online Marketing Specialist for BizBuySell.com, BizQuest.com and FindaFranchise.com.

While some states are already allowing hair salons, restaurants and other retailers to open back up, others are taking a more cautious approach – waiting to reach certain benchmarks before loosening any restrictions. In any case, with COVID-19 still spreading infections, it will not be business as usual.

The “new normal” means businesses must practice strict safety measures to protect their workers. By following OSHA guidelines and developing a plan with preventative measures, safety precautions and workplace protections, businesses can greatly reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The following steps can help businesses operate safely and protect their workers against COVID-19:

Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness Plan

An effective response plan can help guide protective actions against COVID-19. As you develop this plan, keep up with the latest information from local, tribal, and/or territorial health agencies and incorporate suggestions into the plan.

Identify the Level of Risk Associated with Work Sites and Job Tasks

A preparedness plan should be personalized to a business, with consideration given to the level of risk facing its employees and customers.

For employees of grocery, food retail, and restaurants, potential sources for exposure are close contact for a prolonged period with an infected customer. As a precaution:

  • Do not touch your face
  • Encourage customers to use touchless payment options, when available
  • Wipe the counter between each customer at checkout & disinfect frequently touched surfaces (such as cash registers, door handles, etc.)
  • Follow all CDC-recommended precautions

Set Up a Contingency Plan in Case of Outbreaks

Follow federal, state and local recommendations for setting up a plan in case of outbreaks. Make several contingency plans for potential increased outbreaks that may result in:

  • Increased rate of employee absenteeism
  • Need for social distancing
  • Setting up a remote working environment
  • Operating with a reduced workforce
  • Interruption in the supply chain

Implement Basic Measures to Prevent Infection

Teach and encourage basic infection prevention measures. As appropriate, all employers should implement good hygiene and infection control practices, such as:

  • Encourage frequent hand washing and proper hygiene. Provide hand sanitizer and tissue
  • Encourage proper etiquette when sneezing or coughing in the workplace
  • Maintain regular cleaning and disinfecting of all common surfaces and door handles, etc.
  • Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick
  • Establish flexible work environments, such as a work from home plan to increase social distancing between employees to prevent infection.
  • Maintain regular cleaning practices and disinfecting of equipment

Develop Practices to Identify Symptoms and Isolate Sick People

Educate employees about COVID-19 and its symptoms. Encourage employees to self-monitor for symptoms if they suspect exposure. Set up a procedure for immediately isolating employees that show signs or symptoms. Offer a face mask to limit the spread of viral secretion whenever possible. Restrict the number of employees in certain areas.

Maintain Flexible Workplace Policies and Protections

Actively encourage employees to stay home if they are sick. Maintain policies that allow employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Recognize that workers with ill family members may need to stay home to care for them.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires certain employers to provide employees with sick leave or expanded family and medial level for specific reasons relating to COVID-19. 

Establish Workplace Controls to Protect Against Exposure

Controlling workplace hazards during a COVID-19 outbreak could come down to protective measures as it may not be realistic to eliminate a hazard completely. Listed from most effective to least, consider both engineering and administrative controls.

Set Up Engineering Controls to Protect Against Exposure to Infection

Engineering controls involve altering the workplace without relying on employee behavior. Controls include (but are not limited to):

  • Installing efficient air filters
  • Increasing ventilation rates
  • Adding physical barriers between employees and customers

Establish Administrative Controls to Alter Employee Behavior

Administrative controls, such as policies, practices, and procedures, rely on employees to alter their behavior include (but are not limited to):

  • Asking sick employees to remain home
  • Replacing face-to-face meetings with forms of virtual communications
  • Reducing shifts and thereby the number of employees that are in the workplace

Require Safe Work Practices to Reduce Exposure

Identify a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for any COVID-19 issues that may impact the workplace for quicker response times. In addition:

  • Provide educational resources on protective behaviors
  • Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, hand sanitizer, and disposable towels
  • Encourage proper etiquette for coughing, sneezing, and handwashing. Print our flyers and display them in washrooms and on common bulletin boards.
  • Perform routine cleanings throughout the establishment, taking extra care to desensitize frequented areas of the business.
  • Have conversations with employees and understand who is more at-risk, and what they might need.
  • Provide PPE

Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, is a line of defense against infection that may make a difference. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide PPE to employees.

Regulations require that PPE is:

  • Fitted to the person;
  • Maintained and stored properly;
  • Provided with instructions;
  • Used correctly

Examples of PPE are gloves, goggles, face shields & masks.

Identify Risk Level to Determine Appropriate Precautions

OSHA has divided levels of risk into 4 categories, with most American workers likely falling in the lower exposure risk.

Low risk: businesses have minimal occupation contact with the public and other coworkers. Remote workers, office workers, and others who can safely maintain a 6 ft radius as they do their jobs all fall into this category.

Medium risk: businesses require close contact with people who may have been exposed but have not been tested. Workers who have close contact with the general public are at medium risk of exposure.

High risk: employees have a high potential for exposure to suspected or known cases of coronavirus. These jobs include mortuary workers, medical transport workers, and healthcare delivery and support staff.

Most Reliable Sources to Keep Up with Health and Safety Guidelines

Local and state governments websites are the most reliable when it comes to community and local guidance. For other information, turn to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. For information on protecting the workplace and workers, turn to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Conducting business in these uncertain times can be scary, but these actions may help conduct business and protect employees and customers at the same time.


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Brenda Krauss is a Senior Online Marketing Specialist for BizBuySell.com, BizQuest.com and FindaFranchise.com.
Brenda regularly writes about small business trends, growth strategies and exit planning, and develops educational materials for entrepreneurship. She has over a decade of experience in marketing and communications for business, commercial real estate and financial services. In addition to writing, Brenda enjoys traveling abroad and exploring the outdoors.