How Businesses Can Help Keep Employees Safe as They Return to Work

As more individuals are becoming vaccinated against COVID-19 every day, many businesses across the country are planning—or continuing—their return to the workplace. No matter how businesses phase their approach, it remains important for them to protect employees’ wellbeing and mitigate potential risks in the workplace.

From facilities that have been vacant for long periods of time—presenting potential fire, water, and other hazards upon reopening—to the ergonomic risk factors that may be in play for businesses maintaining a remote or hybrid workforce, potential exposures abound. Following are some key considerations businesses should keep in mind as they plan for what’s ahead.

Preparing Businesses for Reopening

When reopening facilities, it is essential to keep employee and customer safety as the utmost priority. Thus, as businesses plan and implement their return to the workplace, they should make sure they are following the latest and rapidly changing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and local government guidelines around workplace safety amid the pandemic. “Safeguarding Your Business and Employees During COVID-19” includes links to such resources so businesses can easily find up-to-date information from government and public health sources on business travel, cleaning and disinfecting, broader return to workplace guidance and more.

Key steps businesses can take to promote worker safety include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying people within the organization who will lead the return-to-work efforts.
  • For certain companies, such as labs, manufacturers and construction companies, performing a Hazard Assessment can help identify where and how employees at various work sites and job tasks may be exposed to viruses and disease such as COVID-19. Further industry-specific guidance and considerations are provided on OSHA’s website.
  • Identifying and implementing administrative and engineering controls to reduce the risk of disease transmission in the workplace. Controls may include the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), improving ventilation, implementing physical distancing in communal work areas, cleaning and disinfecting, or installing physical barriers.
  • Developing a strong communication plan that provides information in a language all workers understand. As part of this effort:
    • Employers should provide updates on the implementation of their return-to-workplace plan.
    • Employees should know who to contact with questions and understand their right to raise workplace health and safety concerns free of retaliation.
    • Supervisors/managers should receive training that familiarizes them with workplace flexibilities and other human resources policies and procedures.

When it comes to minimizing non-pandemic risks related to reopening, there are also steps businesses can take to help protect employees and customers. First, businesses should identify a reopening team, including key senior management, environmental health and safety (EHS) staff and other appropriate operations staff, as necessary. From there, businesses should develop a robust reopening strategy that clearly outlines roles and responsibilities, allocates necessary resources, determines timelines, details contingency plans, and establishes communication protocols so all parties remain aligned throughout the reopening process. To find further guidance around reopening facilities, visit “6 Steps to Prepare Your Business Facility for Reopening.”

Keeping Home Offices Safe

As telecommuting becomes more popular, employers should encourage remote employees to make the spaces in which they conduct business as ergonomically sound as possible.

How to Create an Ergonomic Workspace” offers guidance businesses can share with employees to this end, including tips ranging from the importance of securing the proper furniture, such as chairs with appropriate lumbar support, to ensuring the proper computer positioning to avoid strain on the hands, wrists and eyes.

Creating an ergonomic workspace is especially important given that soft tissue injuries like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome—commonly referred to as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)—can be a significant exposure when performing home computer work. Of note, while the above tactics can help prevent MSDs, there are other potential hazards associated with working remotely. Other risks, such as fall hazards and poor air quality, should be mitigated as well. Routing electrical cords out of walkways, securing rugs and other flooring, and ensuring that workspaces are well-ventilated can help. 

Looking Ahead

In this era of uncertainty, one thing is for sure: Whether returning to the workplace or adopting a remote or hybrid work model, businesses must continue to protect employee safety—and, in doing so, themselves—from potential exposures.  

From developing reopening plans to ensuring that home workspaces are ergonomically effective, now is the time for businesses to establish the foundations that will help them succeed in the post-COVID-19 era.


Marife Molina is Vice President, Orange County and San Diego Branch Manager, Chubb.

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.