National Safety Council (NSC) President and CEO Lorraine Martin is urging business leaders across the United States to take aggressive action to ensure employee safety from COVID-19.

In a survey conducted this week, over 70% of NSC member companies indicated they have employees still reporting to work, unable to work remotely. Many of these employees are in critical roles and crucial to supporting the functioning of our society.

“In partnership with our employees, we as leaders must be vigilant as we grapple with a workplace safety issue we’ve never seen and face the challenge of protecting those on the front lines. In occupational safety, the onus to protect workers from all hazards, all the time, falls to employers, full stop. In this time of global crisis, we need to understand the critical responsibility we have to our workforce.

Martin says business leaders cannot forget that the everyday risks their employees face can easily be compounded by the pandemic.

“Many companies are operating with skeleton crews, which could lead to worker fatigue – an issue that impacts more than 90% of employees. Some employees will need proper training on new equipment and operations, so issues like distraction and complacency are important to address. Business leaders must understand that added stress can lead to spikes in substance use disorders, and 75% of businesses have been directly impacted by opioid misuse under usual conditions. Caring about employees’ physical and mental wellbeing are paramount.”

Martin also highlights the importance of workers who report to job sites practicing the federal government’s directives for hygiene. She says business leaders should provide disinfectant so workers can clean high-touch surfaces every two hours, make sure they can practice physical distancing recommendations and follow CDC workplace guidelines.

“We not only need healthy workers today, but we will need a healthy workforce when it comes time to return to usual work environments and routines. Preventative measures today are critical, including following CDC guidance for disinfecting and cleaning buildings and facilities after an employee tests positive for COVID-19. The guidance includes closing off areas used by the sick person, opening windows and doors and waiting 24 hours after the sick employee leaves the facility to start cleaning and disinfecting, if feasible.”