Re-Opening an Essential Business after COVID-19: Risk Assessment and Mitigation for Employers

In this insight you'll find practical information about both when and how you can re-open your business in a pandemic event.

This blog post can also be found on our Coronavirus Resource Center.

Open or Closed? When and How to Re-Open or Continue Essential Business Operations During a COVID-19 Pandemic

As more states and cities are issuing shelter in place or similar orders, many employers are wondering what it will take to safely reopen or stay open during this time of pandemic. Assuming you're deemed legally able to operate, as an essential business, what types of assessment and control methods should you have in place? While the health and well-being of your employees is the primary concern, there may be other considerations for your essential business to be able to restart or continue operations.

Open sign hanging on glass window of a business storefront

When is it Acceptable to Be Open for Business?

  • Check all relevant regulations and governing authorities to determine you are allowed to be open. If your operation does not fit the definition of essential services in your location, you may not be able to continue work. Remember that there can be federal, state, county, and/or city orders you must follow. Neighboring cities can and do have different restrictions and definitions of essential services.
  • Know the risks. Even if your operation is on an "essential" list, conduct your own risk assessment and weigh the risks. See below for OSHA's recommendations on how to do this.
  • Some high-level guidance can be accessed at the Department of Homeland Security website, but remember that your local regulations may be more restrictive.
  • The local health department is the entity charged with performing risk assessment for quarantine or directing policy at the local level. Get input from your local health department to help you make the decision about when to be open. Note: We recommend seeking legal guidance as you go through the process of making this decision.

As you go through this process, you may need to engage your vendors, suppliers, sub-contractors, temporary employment agencies, and others in written communication regarding their and your status as it relates to essential services status. Save this documentation for your files. Remember that this process may need to occur on a project-by-project basis as well.

Green Light? Here's How to Proceed

If you are permitted to continue or restart work, and have evaluated the risks and have decided to proceed, ask:

1. How do I conduct a proper risk assessment?

  • OSHA has provided these requirements and guidelines for controls and for conducting a hazard assessment.
  • Be aware that once community transmission of COVID-19 is confirmed in a location, you may be required to follow additional precautions (up to and including shutting down operations), regardless of your own internal hazard assessment.

2. What controls must I have in place?

  • The answer to this question is partially dependent on the outcome of your risk assessment. Where there is an exposure, there should be a control.
  • The OSHA guidelines document (same as above) gives guidance regarding controls for different levels of exposure. Note: If you choose to utilize PPE such as an N95 respirator, the requirements for medical clearance and fit testing must still be met. Also, be aware that securing some types of PPE will be difficult for some time, so consider this in your evaluation and decision making. Some Federal OSHA enforcement is currently in place for health care provider organizations have been relaxed.
  • The CDC site gives additional guidance for all employers regarding prevention of COVID-19 spread. This list is updated periodically and includes recommendations.
  • Cough and sneeze etiquette education
  • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • Ensuring ill employees stay home
  • Separation and screening
  • Social distancing
  • Handwashing education and provisions
  • Sick leave policies
  • Travel
  • Some jurisdictions have put into place requirements for a written social distancing and sanitation protocol which must include several elements including posting the protocol at public entrances and distributing the protocol to all employees. An example of this type of protocol can be found here. Be sure you look to see if this protocol outline matches what is being required in your location.

This guide should assist you and your team in establishing Coronavirus-related policy and procedure at a high level and designing a program specific to your exposures. Utilization of resources such as CDC, HHS,, The DHS, local health departments, and city-level input is essential to ensuring your plan is current and complies with all regulatory entities.



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