Risk Reduction Strategies
Your in-house safety strategy should use layers of protection aimed at reducing employee exposure including: promoting vaccination and booster shots, improved ventilation, working remotely, masking, distancing, front door screening, training, disinfection, and when possible, moving activities to the outdoors. Your aim, first and foremost, should be to eliminate risk of infection. Ensure that any strategies you develop do not conflict with existing safety and health protocols.
Vaccination is the best available way to protect yourself and others from severe or deadly COVID-19 as well as from Long COVID Syndrome
We recommend checking this New York State resource page information for answers to common questions about COVID-19 vaccines, their safety and effectiveness. Mount Sinai’s resource website is also available.
Vaccinations, Testing, and Treatment
To access information about COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as testing and treatment, please visit Mount Sinai’s COVID-19 resources page.
How Can I Get Vaccinated?
You can call the New York State COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829) to schedule an appointment. Once you have successfully scheduled an appointment, you will receive a confirmation email that contains a barcode. You will need to bring this to your appointment.
If you live outside of NYS, check your state’s health department website for vaccine eligibility criteria and locations.
Increase ventilation; minimum six air changes/hour, increase the percentage of outside air used, increase system filtration to a minimum MERV 13*.
Opening windows can help dilute contaminates in the air. The use of natural ventilation is limited by factors such as outdoor noise, temperature, window size and location, wind direction and velocity. Opening windows will most often not provide the recommended six air changes/hour.
Portable HEPA air filters may be used to boost existing ventilation. Check portable air purifiers before purchasing for noise levels and to ensure they do not produce ozone, a known respiratory irritant. Portable air purifying ratings (CADR) are for their highest setting. Placement of portable units can influence their effectiveness.
* You should consult with HVAC manufacturer or service provider before changing filters or modifying your system settings.
Working remotely is the optimal way to ensure distancing, however, many businesses are unable to provide this option.
Identify potential exposure scenarios by reviewing your operational flow chart. We recommend keeping as much distance as possible between individuals, even if masked. To do this, you may need to modify your layout, activity flow, and locations of work areas.
Once your facility’s flow is assessed, hang signage for direction of movement, guides for distancing, and statements of area capacity. This is especially important where there might be a wait for entry or exit such as security check points, breakrooms, restrooms, hallways and elevators. Signage should be visible as people enter and exit to help prevent bottlenecks and crowded areas. Translation of signage in commonly used languages is essential. Icons and symbols are most effective for rapid and universal comprehension. In smaller workspaces, we recommend modified work schedules to limit the number of employees on location.
Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves, and face shields have become commonplace in the COVID-19 pandemic. PPE is an effective risk reduction tool, when used alongside other controls to provide an additional level of protection. PPE does have limitations that often reduce its effectiveness. It must be used correctly to be effective, and it places that burden on employee. Masks must cover both the mouth and go over the nose to be maximally effective. Cloth masks, gaiters, bandanas, and scarves are not recommended. Respirators must be NIOSH approved.
Not all of the face masks commercially available are designed to meet federal regulatory standards. There are three types of face masks that are commonly provided by employers: surgical masks, barrier face coverings and N95 respirators.
- Barrier face coverings and surgical masks are the two most common masks used to reduce the spread of the virus (source control). Both masks are loose fitting and offer limited protection to the user from infectious material. Barrier face coverings are designed to cover the user’s nose and mouth.
- FDA authorized surgical masks are designed to provide source control and a barrier to particles and fluids.
- N95s are a type of respirator and are the most protective of the three masks. N95 respirators are tight fitting face pieces designed to provide the user protection from very small particulates including viruses, if fit tested and used correctly. Even when not fit tested, N95s are more protective than other face masks. Anyone using an N95 to protect themselves from work place contaminants, such as lead or solvents must follow OSHA respirator guidance: (1910.134) requirements.
Masks should be FDA approved, respirators NIOSH approved. Masks that are not designed for medical purposes are not required to get FDA approval. PPE has limitations; it must be used consistently and correctly to be effective and it places the burden of protection on the wearer.
The virus can potentially be transmitted through touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching one’s face near the mouth, nose, or eyes (mucus membranes). Disinfection is the process of killing microorganisms. Cleaning is the first step of the disinfection process.
Cleaning removes grime and dirt that might prevent disinfection. Before you begin disinfection, create a list of areas that need to be disinfected. Disinfection should concentrate on high contact areas, such as door handles, desks, elevator buttons, railings and tools. The frequency of cleaning and disinfection will be based on work site and environmental conditions. Based on your risk assessment, other non-high contact areas may also require scheduled disinfection.
Review the manufacturer’s instructions before using any disinfectant. Use safe work practices, such as increased ventilation to reduce exposure level and use recommended personal protective equipment (gloves, eye protection, protective garments, and respirators.
Promote healthy hand hygiene practices with signage, education, and training.
Hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds is an effective way to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Conveniently located wash stations with warm water is the key to an effective hand hygiene program. When soap and water are not available, you can substitute an alcohol based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Hand disinfectants containing methanol should never be used.
Additional handwashing should take place throughout the day, especially before, during, and after food preparation, and after using the toilet, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or touching one’s mask or the garbage.
High Risk Individuals
Even though the COVID-19 Safety Program is designed to mitigate risk, some employees may have medical conditions that place them at a higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19 and may require additional safeguards. We recommend that these employees be assessed either by their primary care physician or by an occupational medicine physician with experience in evaluating workplace hazards as it relates to employee risk. Depending on the degree of risk for an individual worker, the physician may make recommendations for accommodations such as remote work, job reassignment, increased barriers, or enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE).
We recommend that employers establish a process to screen incoming employees, contractors, and visitors before they arrive at your facility or at the entrance of the facility. Before you set up a front door screening, you should consider which personnel will have access to confidential personal health information, as well as current regional COVID-19 activity, regulatory COVID-19 vaccination and masking mandates.
We encourage daily self-screening for COVID symptoms and risk of contagion. A printable and an easy to use on-line algorithm of the CDC Facilities COVID-19 Screening can be found here.