By Kimberly Daise
As employees recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, employers will require support in returning their employees safely back to work. This support needs to be provided by occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) physicians who have special training and expertise in return-to-work procedures including those issues that pertain to epidemiology and testing measures needed for addressing communicable diseases.
In response to this need, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has launched Getting America Safely Back to Work, an information campaign to advise businesses about the importance of returning to work safely, and the specific role that OEM doctors can and should play in that process. The campaign is also designed to help put employers in touch with OEM physicians who can help them navigate through the numerous return-to-work issues that may arise.
The question of how and when some businesses will be able to return their employees to work depends on a variety of factors that are well understood by OEM physicians. These specialists are qualified to provide support to businesses and workers in every type of industry, including health care, transportation, general industry, and manufacturing to name just a few. Physicians in this specialty are proficient in addressing issues that involve the health and productivity of workers, their families, and communities.
Different industries will encounter diverse and unique challenges in returning employees to work. OEM physicians understand how to interpret and apply guidance and advisories from federal and state authorities in different occupational settings. Additionally, the OEM is knowledgeable and understands the many challenges imposed by infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
Employers should consider and institute policies to help protect returning employees. Work modifications may be necessary to facilitate return to work in a safe manner. The distinction between essential vs. non-essential workers must also be considered in the context of return to work. Criteria for return must balance workplace safety with the urgency of maintaining essential economic activities.
Return-to-work policies must balance the safety of workers with the available scientific evidence that individual workers are immune and/or not contagious. Maintaining safe distances and the use of safe hygiene practices, such as face coverings/masks where appropriate and handwashing and hand sanitizers should be enforced. To help in the transitioning of employees back to work, it is important that return-to-work policies be clear, concise, well communicated, and consistent with federal and state guidance. It is also critical that the measures put in place be followed consistently by all employees and employers at the Jobsite/office.
While no single approach will be ideal for all workplaces, OEM physicians have the skills to help employers determine which specific strategies will make their workplaces safer going forward. Employers should seek and consult an OEM physician for consultation.
This is not an endorsement but merely an advisory suggestion.