Keeping Workers Safe During an Epidemic or Pandemic

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During pandemics, companies need to pay attention to health protocols and OSHA worker protection requirements.The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it. Businesses have had to adjust their workplace safety procedures to accommodate both the initial and lingering threat of coronavirus.

The entertainment industry was affected as well, with movie studios and production companies operating under new safety guidelines.

On June 11, 2020, Los Angeles County officials announced that film and TV productions were permitted to resume, according to’s “Safety Protocols for Restarting Film & TV Production Amid Coronavirus Are Announced by Los Angeles Officials.”

Protocols include mandatory health checks for all employees and vendors upon arrival, social distancing and infection control, designated workplace COVID-19 compliance officers, and established procedures for those who show coronavirus symptoms or test positive for the virus.

Pandemic planning for business may have been an afterthought in the past, but in a post-coronavirus world, enterprises everywhere are focusing their attention on this important task. Professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety can expect pandemic planning to be one of their most vital duties.

Approach Pandemic Safety as a Team

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, employers are responsible for the safety of their workers. During health crises such as pandemics, companies need to pay particular attention to protection protocols. Those prepared to implement and enforce health and safety measures will fare better during normal conditions as well as during future crises.

Part of crisis preparation includes ensuring that workers and managers have the skills they need to continue operations as smoothly as possible and to resume normal business after the threat passes.

“Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees,” explains the U.S. Department of Labor in its April 16, 2020 press release, “U.S. Department of Labor Issues Alert to Help Keep Manufacturing Workers Safe During Coronavirus Pandemic.”

“OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance,” the press release continues.

Management must also foster a safety culture by ensuring that everyone follows guidelines and protocols.  Hand-washing posters and social distancing markers on floors can help people to remember that COVID-19 is still an ongoing danger.

“Frequent visual and verbal reminders to workers can improve compliance with hand hygiene practices and thus reduce rates of infection,” OSHA writes in its factsheet, “Protecting Workers During a Pandemic.”

Epidemic and Pandemic Planning: Covering Every Angle

Some adjustments that businesses make to combat the spread of coronavirus involve changing the physical aspects of a business, such as curbside service for restaurants, utilizing a distributed workforce, and installing better air filters, hand sanitizer stations, and sneeze guards.

Other changes involve workforce behavioral and procedural changes that rely on individuals to remember the rules.

The Department of Labor and OSHA, as well as OSHA’s “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” put forward several important epidemic/pandemic safety guidelines, including:

  • Maintain social distancing (6 feet apart) between coworkers wherever feasible and discourage handshaking.
  • Inform employees which work-related activities present an elevated risk of exposure to sources of infection.
  • Establish new or flexible working hours, possibly staggering shifts so fewer workers are present at the workplace at the same time.
  • Train workers on proper procedures for putting on/taking off protective clothing, masks, gloves, and equipment.
  • Monitor the coronavirus situation as it unfolds around the globe to keep current with any new developments.
  • Promote personal hygiene to include hand washing, hand sanitizing (when hand washing is not feasible), and disinfecting tools and equipment after use. Employers must also be sure to keep all soaps, disinfectants, and disposable items fully stocked at all times.
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette, especially when masks are not worn, to include sneezing or coughing into the crux of an arm or into a shirt sleeve.
  • Discourage employees from using each other’s personal items such as cellphones, desks, pens, and other tools where feasible.
  • Encourage all employees to report all health and safety concerns and experiences.
  • Keep employees informed of medical services, testing, and assistance available to them either through the business or locally.
  • Consider instituting or increasing paid sick leave options for employees so they can stay home if they experience symptoms. Workers without paid sick time often come to work sick. Paid sick leave can also be extended to cover workers who need to care for sick members of their immediate family (spouse or children).

Epidemic vs. Pandemic Planning

The difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is one of degree. Epidemics refer to a sudden increase in cases of a specific disease for a specific area, according to the article, “Epidemic vs. Pandemic: What Exactly Is the Difference?”

A pandemic, on the other hand, is an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents and may be a global problem. COVID-19 is a textbook example of a pandemic, unlike the West African Ebola Epidemic, which was confined to a specific area on one continent.

Employer responses to epidemics and pandemics may not differ much, but business travel likely will be affected. Authorities may prohibit or discourage domestic air travel during localized disease outbreaks and cancel many international flights during pandemics.

During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, travel into and out of the United States was severely restricted in an attempt to keep COVID-19 out of the country.

The most important things employers should bear in mind during epidemic or pandemic planning is that everyone, employer and employee alike, would face the same danger and people should take any possible measures to help themselves and others avoid a potentially deadly virus.

Eastern Kentucky University’s Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety Program

Eastern Kentucky University’s online bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety program is designed to teach students how to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions, and risks.

Experienced safety professionals guide students through environmental health and safety classes online, covering modern trends in employee engagement and the establishment of a safety culture in the workplace. For more information, contact EKU today.

Recommended Reading:

Preventing Respiratory Diseases in the Workplace

What You Need to Know: Two Essentials of a Disease Outbreak

Occupational Safety in Natural Disasters



Safety Protocols for Restarting Film & TV Production Amid Coronavirus Are Announced by Los Angeles Officials –

U.S. Department of Labor Issues Alert to Help Keep Manufacturing Workers Safe During Coronavirus Pandemic –

Protecting Workers During a Pandemic –

Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 –

Epidemic vs. Pandemic: What Exactly Is the Difference? –