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April 27, 2020
NSC forms reopening task force

The National Safety Council (NSC) announced a public-private task force to help employers safely resume business following disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER) task force include businesses, government agencies, and professional safety groups.

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The task force will issue recommendations and develop guidance for employers, including general and sector-specific “playbooks” for reopening. SAFER also will identify issues involved in reengaging the workforce by partnering with labor unions and healthcare, Human Resources, legal, and workers compensation providers.

Fifty-five states and territories have had closures of nonessential businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many have prohibited in-person workforces for nonessential businesses.

“The manner in which employers bring people back to work will define our national response to the pandemic,” NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin said in a statement.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, first identified in Wuhan City, China, in December 2019.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) are members of the group led by the NSC, as are the American Petroleum Institute, American Trucking Association, and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Employer members include BNSF, Dow, McDonald’s, and Walgreens.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Chemistry Council, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, Cummins, Grainger, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Uber, and U.S. Steel also are participants in the task force.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, so it’s imperative that worker safety be prioritized as our nation’s economy slowly begins to recover,” said ASSP President Diana Stegall in an accompanying statement.

Task force researchers will issue resources with insights, policies, guidelines, and tools intended to aid employers across industry sectors in reopening without losing time to trial and error, according to the NSC. SAFER will develop both industry- and risk-specific resources. The group intends to provide data-driven guidance suitable for large, midsize, and small employers.

The NSC has engaged both businesses and the federal government during the course of the pandemic.

On April 2, Lorraine Martin, the NSC’s President and CEO, issued a statement calling on employers to protect workers during the pandemic. An NSC survey found 70 percent of its member companies indicated they had employees still reporting to work, unable to work remotely.

“Business leaders cannot forget that the everyday risks their employees face easily can be compounded by the pandemic,” Martin said. “Many companies are operating with skeleton crews, which could lead to worker fatigue.”

Martin reminded employers to ensure workers observed government-recommended physical distancing protocols and provide disinfectants so employees could clean frequently touched surfaces every 2 hours. The NSC also reminded employers to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting facilities.

The NSC and a coalition of 50 employer and safety groups on April 15 wrote Vice President Mike Pence, urging the federal government to provide COVID-19 testing resources to employers with workers engaged in essential business services. The group sought the vice president’s help in obtaining access to testing and timely results for employees in critical infrastructure and essential businesses.

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