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The new normal. We’ve all heard the term, but what does it mean? What will it look like? Business owners eager to reopen are working to figure it out as they go. Local authorities are expecting a thorough plan to explain how your business will address the new normal, according to various guidance documents beginning to emerge from the states. To craft a successful plan to reopen, whether your business is a food service facility, a hotel or any other retail service, you need to do more than simply bring back your employees and open the door.

The first step is to know what limitations you might be facing. Regulatory guidance can vary from one jurisdiction to another, so it’s crucial to obtain reliable information from your local, state and federal regulatory bodies. If possible, you may consider joining or participating in a workgroup that helps set the guidelines. This will allow you to provide important input, help shape your location’s response and provide early notification about potential changes.

The second step is to understand how and when your employees interact with customers and with each other. Close interpersonal interaction is no longer recommended. Can you alter the business model to reduce your staff’s interaction? If not, you need to consider what new physical changes need to occur. You may consider adding PPE requirements, physical controls (like temporary walls or shields) and changing standard operating procedures. You may also need to limit the number of guests to a prescribed percentage of maximum building occupancy and adjust the flow of entrances and exits.

Employers are obligated to provide safe and healthy workplaces. The stakes are high for your staff and social distancing keeps them away from colleagues and guests who could potentially be carriers. The stakes are also high for your continued operations. According to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, a single employee who tests positive in a facility without social distancing will cause the quarantine of all colleagues who were within 6 feet for more than 10 minutes over the two previous days*. That can disrupt all the progress you’ve made in reopening.

Third, it’s important to understand infection control. Handwashing is one of the most important steps we can take to help prevent the spread of illnesses. For employees that touch food, increasing handwashing frequency can help prevent the transmission of other types of illnesses beyond respiratory viruses. Employees should take care to wash their hands before donning gloves for any food preparation, after touching exposed skin, after handling soiled utensils and after engaging in any other activities that could soil hands.

Finally, facility sanitization is another essential aspect in preventing the spread of illnesses. When approved sanitizers run low, however, some people turn to chlorine sanitizing agents like unscented bleach. Bleach can be a highly effective sanitizer, but it can also be potentially hazardous when misused. Specifically, when mixed with other cleaning products that contain ammonia, it creates a highly toxic chlorine gas. The cleaning staff needs proper training on how to mix and use cleaning solutions, use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as wearing gloves or a protective outer garment, and to provide appropriate ventilation in rooms where sanitizers are mixed and stored.

These considerations must be part of a comprehensive plan to address the individual situations unique to your business. There are other health and safety considerations for the building itself that should be addressed prior to reopening. Businesses that have been closed for an extended time period may be required to undergo a health department reinspection. Equipment needs to be checked to verify that it is functioning properly, certifications are current and there has been no vermin activity. Water and ventilation systems may need to be flushed and tested for mold.

UL’s Pre-Reopening Audit™ (PRA) is designed for facilities that may have ceased operations for a variety of reasons such as fires, flooding, seasonal inactivity or other long-term events. The intent of this audit is to provide a preparation checklist for the facility or test the facility’s readiness for an upcoming re-inspection by a regulatory agency. PRA is a specialized solution not intended to replace a normal, more robust audit. Backed by UL’s regulatory expertise in this area, our goal is to help your business reopen as planned without incurring additional costs for repeat re-inspections.

As regulations change, it’s important for business owners to adapt. There will be fluctuations in tightening and relaxing government requirements and recommendations depending on conditions. One day’s floor spacing might not be the next day’s layout. We also need to be engaged, learning best practices from others or creating them ourselves. Voicing concerns to regulators can help drive the conversation and improve the business ecosystem so other businesses can thrive too. You may also need to draw on your creativity, relying on new models for the way you do business. Most of all, you will need to be visible. Your customers—and your staff—are looking for reassurance. To regain confidence in business, seeing the extra effort you put into safety can help reinforce their comfort level.

There’s no new normal, other than constant change. Companies that develop the flexibility necessary to anticipate and adapt will be best positioned for whatever the future holds.

*Los Angeles County Public Health document entitled, “ Protocol for Restaurants Opening for On-Site Dining: Appendix I”, Section A, page 2 retrieved from http://​www​.ph​.lacounty​.gov/​m​e​d​i​a​/​C​o​r​o​n​a​v​i​r​us/ on 06.15.2020.

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