Is Social Distancing the Answer?

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

With some operations and engineering creativity, employee collaboration, and strong communication tools, the answer is YES!

Social Distancing is basically an engineering control to create enough space between individuals to protect them from droplets related to coughing, sneezing, talking or singing. The recommendation to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 is for employees and/or customers to be 6 feet (2 meters) apart – this is basically 2 arm lengths. While each industry may have it’s own unique challenges, there are some basic ideas that will work in most workplaces including fulfillment centers, grocers, call centers and many more. Here are some tips for translating social distancing into your environment.

1. Educate your employees on Social Distancing and why it works

  • Knowledge is power. There are many educational publications that are free and can be used to create educational tools for your employees. As an example, look for tools from organizations that you belong to such as SHRM, guidance from OSHA, DOL, and the CDC. Here is a link from the CDC that you may find helpful.

  • CDC Community Mitigation Strategy

  • Ask employees what ideas they have for their areas; colleagues can be a great source of ideas since they know their jobs the best.

  • It’s okay to not have all the answers when asked questions. Be authentic and state you do not know and will investigate. Follow-up as soon as you have an answer.

2. Create visuals so employees have an easy reference

  • Use floor decals or paint lines of where to stand, walk, or areas to avoid. Indicate foot traffic patterns.

  • In areas where employees work side by side, provide a specific reference visual that will help them measure 6 ft. distancing. As an example, if a grocers shelving width is 3 ft., then employees would be shown in the visual sign or poster to remain two horizontal shelves apart.

3. Stagger workstations so furniture creates the natural 6 ft. distance

  • Reconfigure the work space so the workstations become physical barriers.

  • Have employees use every other station to the front and the sides (staggered workstations). Place signage at the stations that will be barriers and not for use, so it is easy for employees to interpret.

4. Create barriers at interaction points

  • Install acrylic or polycarbonate shields in work spaces that are commonly used for person to person communication such as reception desks and security entrances. Some barriers are easily designed as countertop installs. Others can be mounted to workstation stands.

  • If you are having difficulty obtaining these products as they are in high demand, talk to your safety and engineering personnel to discuss alternative products that can be used. If shields are delayed or not available, you can use distance barriers like PVC pipes and floor decals to direct employees or the public where to stand to keep a safe distance.

5. Brand your signage so it is easily recognized by your employees and customers

  • Be consistent with your COVID-19 signage branding. Customers and employees will become accustomed to the visual and look for instructions at each intersection point.

  • Make them bright and different from other colors in your usual environment to make them pop out.

Finally, once you have implemented your plan, stand back and observe. Don’t be afraid to tweak things or change it up if not working. And certainly, keep notes on what is working to add to your future business resiliency plans.

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