COVID-19 Is Still Here – Are Your Workers Protected?
In a previous paper titled “The 4 M’s of a COVID-19 Startup”, the importance of controlling several key elements of the 4 M’s Machinery, Material, Methods and Manpower were addressed. The object of this paper is to provide further details on what the company must do to protect the safety of the worker both at and away from the workplace.
The COVID-19 threat is difficult to manage for three reasons:
- over 50% of the infected with COVID-19 will have no symptoms;
- 50% of the people that do get symptoms will not get them for five days;
- the virus is most contagious about 5 days after infection.
Non-contact thermal testing to detect infected workers is ineffective
Many companies have decided to use non-contact thermal testing to check people entering he plant but it is only effective at detecting 25% of the infected people due to the lack of symptoms. Given these facts, a worker safety strategy must assume that everyone is infected that is in the plant.
Worker Safety in the Workplace
The key to worker safety in the workplace is wearing masks designed to prevent infection
South Korea is recognized as the most successful country in the world in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Although South Korea has a population 51.64 million people, they have only had 10,936 infections as of May 12, 2020. They have accomplished this performance by having almost every South Korean wear a KF94 Respirator. The KF94 provides protection of the wearer against infection and filters out 94% of the viral droplets and aerosols. It is South Korea’s replacement for a vaccine until a vaccine is developed.
The CDC recommended masks are not designed to protect the wearer from infection
Unlike the KF94, the facial coverings recommended by the CDC are designed to provide protection of the public against infection by the wearer and filter out only 20% of the viral droplets and aerosols. It is critical that plants purchase facial coverings for their workers that provide protection and filtration as equivalent to the KF94 as possible.
The most common mistake companies make Is to purchase masks that have the shape of a rectangle
The most common mistake made by companies is purchasing disposable surgical style masks that are not designed to provide protection against infection for the person wearing it. Because of their rectangular shape, a good seal cannot be created between the mask and the face. The viral droplets pass through the gap and infect the wearer.
Masks that prevent infection with great filtration reduce the need for social distancing
Social distancing is very expensive to implement in a company. The great news about using facial coverings like the KF94 is they reduce the need for social distancing. Over 17 million South Koreans voted at the polls in April. Although social distancing was maintained at the polls, large crowds formed in the streets. There was no increase in infections because of the KF94 Respirators.
Because of the weaknesses of the facial coverings recommended by the CDC, the CDC was forced to still advise that social distancing be maintained even when masks are worn. Unfortunately, it is very likely that social distancing will be an OSHA requirement even for companies that have facial protections with the quality of the KF94. The only good news is the combination of the two should reduce the probability of infection to near zero for the workers.
Worker Safety at Home
If the worker becomes infected at home the value of the worker safety investment at work is lost
The most difficult challenge faced by the company will be keeping the worker safe at home. If the workers get infected when they leave the work environment the entire investment in the worker’s safety is lost. When the workers leave the safety of the workplace they are going to enter into to an environment of infected people many of whom will not be wearing a facial covering or ineffective facial coverings. Some studies have provided indications that most healthcare worker infections occur when they leave the controlled environment of the hospital that has a high concentration of infected people and return to the uncontrolled environment of the general public.
The key is education. The worker must want to take the safety of the work environment home. They can be taught how to make inexpensive ($5 to $7) and washable cloth masks that approximate the performance of the KF94 Respirator. Some companies may decide to provide these to their workers to protect the large investments they have made in the safety of the workplace.
Watch two videos for more information on what makes an effective mask
Every effort must be made to protect the employees from infection. For more information on how to determine if the facial covering you plan to use is appropriate, please watch the “Find Out If You Have the Right Mask in Two Minutes” video. If you have not selected a mask yet, please watch “Five Things You Need to Know Before You Make or Buy a Mask”.