COVID-19 risks

With so much information — and misinformation — circulating about COVID-19 and what’s safe and not safe to do, businesses are treading carefully as they implement policies to keep their staff, customers and vendors safe.

While there is plenty of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and OSHA on how to reduce the chances of COVID-19 spreading in the workplace, outbreaks continue to occur in businesses around the country.

Spreading events have happened in shared breakrooms when people have been eating together, offices where workstations are divided by partitions but people roam the office without masks, and when workers work in too close proximity to each other.

But which activities are the riskiest in terms of susceptibility to spreading the virus? Hospital group Crossover Health recently published a list that ranks the risks associated with common workplace activities. The list can be used to limit the higher-risk activities or ensure additional protective measures while workers perform those riskier tasks.

Below are the rankings for various tasks:

Workplace setting

Low risk — Working from home or in a private office.

Low to medium risk — Working in an open office, or in a cubicle within an open office.

Medium/high risk — Working on an assembly line or in a manufacturing plant.

Workplace dining

Low risk — Eating alone on a bench or at an outdoor table, getting food from onsite vending machines.

Low to medium risk — Eating at your desk (open office).

Medium risk — Eating in a shared office kitchen.

Medium/high risk — Eating in a large cafeteria.

Networking environments

Low/medium risk — Grabbing coffee to-go with someone and doing a “walk

and talk” meeting outside. Outdoor lunch meeting with a handful of people.

Medium/high risk — Outdoor happy hour.

High risk — Indoor happy hour.

Meetings

Low risk — Video conferences.

Low/medium risk — Small, short meetings in a conference room. A quick discussion in the hallway.

High risk — Large in-person conferences.

Commuting

Low risk — Driving by yourself and walking or biking alone.

Low/medium risk  Carpooling with people you know and trust.

Medium risk  Ride-shares (Lyft, Uber, taxi).

Medium/high risk — Public transportation (bus, train) and crowded transportation hubs (airports, rail stations).

Miscellaneous activities

Low/medium risk  Using shared office equipment (phones, printers, fax machines, pens, etc). Using public bathrooms at work. Seeing a doctor at an onsite health clinic with proper precautions. Using shared bikes or scooters on campus.

Medium risk  Using an elevator.

Medium/high risk  Riding a campus shuttle.

High risk  Using a workplace gym.

The takeaway

Knowledge of the COVID-19 risk associated with each of these activities can help your employees guide their behavior, as well as help you set rules for them to follow.

Probably the most important thing employers can do is require face coverings when appropriate, as well as the maintenance of social distancing of at least 6 feet between employees.

The CDC has a number of recommendations to guide employers, including:

  • Altering the workspace using engineering controls, in order to prevent exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • Making sure the workspace is well-ventilated.
  • Changing the alignment of workstations where feasible. For example, redesign workstations so employees are not facing each other.
  • Considering making foot traffic one-way in narrow or confined areas, such as aisles and stairwells, to encourage single-file movement at a 6-foot distance.
  • Setting up, where possible, physical barriers between employees, and between employees and customers.
  • Providing cloth facemasks to your workers.