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Planning for the New Normal

Well into the current pandemic, ports and terminals are thinking about getting back to normal, or to the extent they can, a new normal. How should we prepare as ports and terminals for ramping back up when stay at home orders begin to be lifted?

For starters, develop a Policy for Healthy Workplace Environments and have it reviewed by local health officials and approved as a policy document. There are a number of good guides available from the USCDC, World Health Organization, US and Canadian Health Units, and OSHA. Essential personnel and workspace options should be outlined in your new or updated policies. In addition, polices should designate a coordinator who looks after implementation.

A policy can assist with the transition back to “normal” working conditions. It is important to note that there is no switch that gets thrown where you go from scaled-down operations back up to full-scale operations, particularly in the office environment. A return to normalcy should be taken in a stepwise fashion, keeping the process gradual to minimize risks to health and safety, and mitigating complications of an abrupt change. When starting down the path to recalling employees to the work site, the process should be gradual. Begin with essential employees who can work more effectively in your offices and plan for their return. Many of the guidelines for flu season are applicable to pandemics, and a designated coordinator can assist with transitioning people and practices to the new normal.

Consider the physical environment. Should workspaces be changed to allow for a reasonable level of isolation by personnel? Cubicles may foster communications which may or not be accurate, but they can limit physical separation. Alternating cubicle spaces with a worker and then storage space or equipment area can be useful. The use of alternate workdays for persons where cubicles cannot be separated is another option.

Undertake regular cleaning including all physical surfaces, desks, handrails, kitchen areas, and HVAC units including ductwork and regular changing of filters. Undertake a plan with a qualified cleaner who has the ability to provide services beyond just simple vacuuming, dusting, and taking out the trash.

Pay particular attention to common areas such as restrooms and kitchens. If you provide snacks and food, be sure the food is individually packaged. Discourage the use of common dishes, like communal mugs. Provide adequate amounts of hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, face masks in peak periods, and signage that reminds employees of good hygiene practices.

Develop policies that allow employees to work from home until you are ready to have them return to your offices and facilities. Be flexible in having employees stay home if they are ill and consider a “work at home” day each week to reduce in-house personnel as appropriate. Develop ways to foster effective remote work.

According to OSHA, as an employer, you have an important role in protecting employee health and safety, which has been - and will continue to be - tested by the current pandemic. It is important to work with community planners to integrate your pandemic plan into local and state planning, particularly if your operations are part of the nation's critical infrastructure or key resources. Integration with local community planners will allow you to access resources and information promptly to maintain operations and keep your employees safe.

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