Businesses have long relied on a five-tier inverted pyramid called the “hierarchy of controls” to reduce workplace risks to employees, ranging from chemical exposure to physical injury. This framework will also be the basis for companies’ plans to get back to work, occupational safety experts say.
Companies in China have already begun following the hierarchy to restart production. But the process has been expensive and slow, as it is likely to be in the United States. That’s because many of the standard tools for workplace safety are ineffective against a risk like the coronavirus.
Distributing face masks and nagging employees to wash their hands count among the more uncertain methods for ensuring employee safety, experts say. But these are largely the methods that Chinese companies have been relying on as they have restarted production — and American businesses may not have many better options.
Governments and companies face a difficult choice in coming weeks: They can either reopen business with layers of stifling and expensive hygiene controls, or return to work with fewer controls and accept the risk of second-wave infections.