Following the “Stay Home-Work Safe” Order issued yesterday by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in coordination with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Greater Houston Partnership, a leading business group, today announced the launch of the “COVID-19 Houston Work Safe Company” program.
While the County order requires individuals to remain at home or a place of residence, it does provide exceptions for essential work and activities. Specifically, the order exempts companies operating in sectors deemed essential to safety and the on-going operation of our community. Essential employees at these exempted companies may report to work.
To comply with the Work Safe component of the order, companies that are permitted to continue their operations must do so in a manner than protects the health of their employees and minimizes the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The “COVID-19 Houston Work Safe Company” program establishes 10 principles companies should follow to maintain safe on-site operations.
“Make no mistake, while many Houston companies may continue their operations, they cannot be working today like they were before the virus outbreak,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. “We must ensure our critical workplaces do not become transmission hot spots for the virus. This would have a dramatic impact on our healthcare system and leave our community vulnerable if essential companies’ operations are hampered.”
The 10 principles are based on the established notions of social distancing, hygiene, and other policies meant to support a healthy and safe work environment during this critical time.
“Both the county and the city have been working closely with our healthcare leaders to determine the best, smartest course of action for our community,” said Judge Hidalgo. “We did not issue this order lightly, understanding the impact it would have on business. This is about saving lives. Now, we call on those critical industries and businesses our community needs most to operate in the safest way possible and help stop the virus’ spread.”
“This is a new day in Houston, Texas. We encourage people to stay home, but this does not mean you are locked down. We are keeping our essential businesses open because they are just that, essential businesses. But they must operate with the safety and health of their employees and our community as their top priority. I encourage companies to join in this Work Safe program,” said Mayor Turner.
Companies who adopt these principles are encouraged to publicly declare their pledge to do so. The Greater Houston Partnership has developed a COVID-19 Houston Work Safe Company webpage with links to the principles, a toolkit with a Work Safe Company logo for use in the workplace and social media, as well as suggested social media posts. Companies are encouraged to use the hashtag #HoustonWorkSafe
The 10 principles include:
1. Allow all but critical on-site employees to work from home. While some companies must maintain on-site workers to complete specific business critical tasks, employers should allow all non-essential employees to work remotely.
2. Employ video technology. To avoid unnecessary exposure, employers should implement tools such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or other such applications to conduct meetings. No one should feel the need to meet in person.
3. Create a safe work environment for all critical on-site employees.
- Create physical separation. Health officials advise that all individuals should remain at least six feet apart to avoid possible transmission. Employers should establish protocols that require all on-site employees maintain a distance of at least six feet while working.
- Close communal spaces. Employers should discontinue use of any communal spots such as lunchrooms, breakrooms, meeting rooms and other gathering spaces to avoid unnecessary person-to-person exposure.
- Expand cleaning operations. Companies where workers must remain onsite should increase cleaning protocols of all high-touch and high-traffic areas throughout the day.
4. Require sick workers to stay home. To minimize exposure to other personnel, all workers who are experiencing even mild symptoms should avoid the workplace, report the situation to their supervisor and remain home.
5. Adjust paid sick leave (PTO) policies. Employers should adjust policies to remove disincentives from people self-reporting illnesses. It is to your company’s advantage for sick employees to stay home.
6. Encourage proper hygiene. Employers should provide sufficient hand sanitizing stations, guidelines for proper hand washing and soap at all hand-washing stations to ensure proper hygiene at the workplace.
7. Create alternative teams. Employers where on-site staff remain critical should create alternating teams (i.e. morning/afternoon shifts, day/evening, every other day) so that operations may continue if one team becomes exposed and is required to quarantine.
8. Restrict on-site access. Employee guests and other visitors should not be allowed access to any office or worksite.
9. Discontinue work-related travel and require reporting of personal travel. Employers should discontinue travel by employees to other locations outside of the Houston region. If employees travel outside of the region for personal reasons, these trips should be reported to the employer should they pose an increased risk.
10. Establish anonymous reporting. To maintain a safe work environment for on-site employees, companies should create an anonymous complaint channel for employees to report unsafe practices or violations of protocol during this period.
Greater Houston Partnership
The Greater Houston Partnership works to make Houston one of the best places to live, work and build a business. As the economic development organization for the Houston region, the Partnership champions growth across 11 counties by bringing together business and civic-minded leaders who are dedicated to the area’s long-term success. Representing 1,100 member organizations and approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce, the Partnership is the place business leaders come together to make an impact. Learn more at Houston.org.