Man cleaning laptop in office.

These tips can help you stay safe while returning to work during an outbreak

How do you work safely during an outbreak of a contagious and potentially dangerous virus? As businesses begin taking steps to return to productivity, how do they reduce the risk of exposure to illness for employees, and what changes in behavior can employees make to reduce the risk of getting sick or spreading it to others?

The following tips from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can help.

Tips for employees

These tips from the CDC provide general instruction for reducing your risk of exposure to infectious diseases – including the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) – in the workplace.

Woman in office using hand sanitizer.DO…

  • Clean hands at the door and schedule regular reminders to wash your hands.
  • Create reminders to cover coughs and sneezes and avoid touching your face.
  • Disinfect often-touched surfaces, like doorknobs, tables, desks and handrails.
  • Use videoconferencing whenever possible. When not possible, hold meetings in open, well-ventilated spaces.


  • Shake hands. Use non-contact greeting methods instead.
  • Touch your face.
  • Cram conference rooms or other meeting spaces. Instead, consider adjusting or postponing large meetings or gatherings.
  • Share food.
  • Come in if you’re feeling sick or have a sick family member in your home.

Tips for employers

According to OSHA the most effective measures to control a hazard when it may not be possible to eliminate it – listed from most effective to least effective – are engineering controls, administrative controls, safe work practices and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls involve isolating employees from work-related hazards. These types of controls reduce exposure to hazards without relying on worker behavior.

  • Ensure ventilation is operating properly. If possible, increase ventilation in work space areas.
  • Consider installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards. Rearrange furniture/desks to support distancing.
  • Use verbal announcements and signage as reminders for hygiene and physical distancing practices.
  • Install a drive-through window for customer service. Consider remote delivery and or pick-up options to decrease in-store traffic, if applicable.

Box of facial tissues on office desk.Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are changes in work policy or procedures to minimize exposure to hazards.

  • Encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Encourage physical distancing and the use of face masks in the workplace. Train workers who need to use protective clothing and equipment how to put it on, use it and take it off correctly.
  • Minimize contact among employees by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications.
  • Establish alternating days or extra shifts to reduce the number of employees in a facility at a given time while enabling them to keep their distance from one another and maintain a full onsite work week.
  • Discontinue nonessential travel to locations with ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • Develop emergency communications plans, including a forum for answering employee concerns.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily at a minimum. Provide disinfectant wipes and cleaners to employees to encourage increased cleaning of personal workspaces.
  • Provide workers with up-to-date education and training on COVID-19 risk factors and ways to reduce their risk of exposure. Ensure workers are aware of all the necessary steps to promote a safe work environment, including handwashing and respiratory hygiene measures, like proper mask use and covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing.


Properly using PPE can help prevent exposures. It should be used in addition to other measures.

Examples of PPE include gloves, goggles, face shields, face masks and respiratory protection. During an outbreak of an infectious disease, PPE recommendations for specific job tasks may change depending on geographic location, updated risk assessments for workers and information on PPE effectiveness.

Check the OSHA and CDC websites regularly for updates about PPE recommendations. PPE specific to their job duties should be provided at no cost to workers based on an assessment of their risks.

Last Updated: June 22, 2020

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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