Reducing close contacts to avoid transmission of COVID-19

Nov 24, 2020

Maintaining strict social and household bubbles has proven to reduce the risk of virus transmission in our personal lives. Similar practices could also reduce the risk in our workplaces, especially now as infection rates rise in many locales.

“Taking a few simple steps to reduce contact among employees could make a big difference,” says WSPS Account Manager Kathy Wrzos. Here’s what she suggests.

  1. Conduct a COVID-19 risk of transmission assessment to determine where and how transmission through close contact could occur. Take your lead from Ontario’s guideline for developing a workplace safety plan. The guideline identifies two primary ways in which COVID-19 spreads:
    • when in close proximity to others
    • by touching your face with hands potentially contaminated by touching surfaces or objects

    The guideline also notes that the risk of infection increases if you
    • interact with more people
    • work in enclosed spaces – working indoors is riskier than working outdoors
    • spend more time with people who may potentially be infected

    With these factors in mind, identify tasks, practices and behaviours that could put workers at risk, and assess the risk. Look for opportunities to minimize movement, such as situations where workers or operations may not need to extend their presence throughout the facility.
  2. Minimize close contact – reduce interdepartmental contact where possibleThe goal is to minimize employee movement and interactions as well as the length of time employees spend in close contact in closed spaces. The following options could be applied in many settings:
    • cluster workgroups or departments
    • organize work and tasks to minimize employee movement and interactions – if you are carrying out job rotation, ensure surfaces are cleaned and disinfected in the new work area and consider rotating the entire work group where possible
    • keep people on the same teams and shifts
    • movement between departments
    • eliminate overlaps between shift changes, leave a buffer period between shifts and breaks, and arrange for individual groups or departments to take their breaks together, where possible
    • encourage workers to maintain physical distance during scheduled breaks
    • eliminate in-person communication in favour of electronic communication

    Additional best practices to reduce the potential for transmission include:
    • wearing a mask or face covering for source control; masks are more effective when worn correctly (over the nose, mouth and chin) by the individual and those around them
    • providing sanitizing materials where handwashing may increase contact with others
    • promoting proper cough and sneeze etiquette
    • sanitizing frequently touched surfaces and common areas, such as entrances, counters, door handles, handrails, switches, elevators and washrooms
    • repositioning workstations or installing transparent barriers where it may be difficult to maintain physical distance
    • encouraging workers to wash their hands after contact with others or surfaces others have touched, especially before breaks or movement through the workplace

    Specific settings also offer unique opportunities to minimize close contact and interdepartmental movement throughout the operation. Below, Kathy provides sample suggestions for three different scenarios: restaurants, industrial facilities and retail operations.

Reducing potential close contact in a restaurant setting

In most restaurants there is the front of house – host, servers, bussers, bartender, general manager and anyone else who might interact with customers – and back of house – kitchen manager, head chef, sous chef, line cooks, dishwashers, etc. Options for minimizing contact between front of the house and back of the house include the following:

  • creating a no-contact pass in a neutral location
  • identifying and removing a requirement for workers to carry out any tasks outside of their work area
  • set up multiple service stations and assigning staff to specific stations
  • creating one-way patterns of movement (e.g. entrances and exits, to a washroom and back, among tables, from the dining area to service stations, from the food dispatching area to tables…)

Reducing potential close contact in a manufacturing facility

In most manufacturing facilities, work is organized by department and work team. Encourage these groups to stay apart from other departments and teams; for example, during breaks or shift changes. There are some positions which see more movement throughout the operation, such as quality assurance or maintenance, where managing distance and contact may require work re-organization or a different approach. Considerations for reducing potential close contact when not necessary in a manufacturing facility include:

  • demarcating available breakroom stations to promote physical distancing during lunch and breaks
  • managing shared spaces by organizing shifts/teams together, and staggering lockers and changing room space to promote physical distance
  • scheduling regular production maintenance off shift or when people are not working in that area; if maintenance must take place while other people are moving around, promote physical distancing by installing a temporary barrier around the space

Reducing potential close contact in a retail setting

Many retail stores are divided into departments. Keeping functions within departments can reduce unnecessary contact. For example, in grocery stores, have produce staff work only within the produce department and not perform duties in the meat or deli areas. Here are some other suggestions to minimize contact between departments:

  • rearrange the retail and stockroom floors to promote one-way traffic and organize stock by department
  • assign employees single tasks or responsibilities, such as check-out or change room only
  • manage stocking or restocking during off-peak hours in work groups

How we can help

Find more controls for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in over 100 COVID-19 sector-specific health and safety guidance documents.

Workplace visitors pose additional exposure hazards. Read these 5 best practices for bringing visitors safely into your workplace.

Create your own safety plan with these resources:

These and many other resources appear on WSPS’ COVID-19 Hub. Explore the hub today.

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