Q&A: Safety a big concern as workers return to their jobs

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FILE - In this May 12, 2020 file photo, amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, Ronaldo Santos has his temperature checked before starting his work shift in the meat department of a grocery store in Dallas. With more businesses across the country easing back to life, the new challenge will be how to keep workers safe during the pandemic. From temperature checks, contact tracing, social distancing and staggered schedules, a variety of new protocols are being implemented. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

NEW YORK – With more businesses across the country easing back to life, the new challenge will be how to keep workers safe during the pandemic.

From temperature checks, contact tracing, social distancing and staggered schedules, a variety of new protocols are being implemented. The stakes are high since without a vaccine or treatment, an outbreak of the new coronavirus could be devastating for companies and workers alike, whether it's in a meatpacking plant or an office.

“Businesses face existential threats all the time. They are built to make decisions that will determine the life or death of the company," said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of the staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Choices that affect the life or death of their employees now need to be made for the first time. The stakes have never been higher."

Brian Kuhn, a data analyst in Roxbury, New Jersey, worked in an office with about 50 people until mid-March, when they switched to remote work. His company has not asked him to come back to the office yet, but he says if they did, he would not feel comfortable, even with precautions in place.

“I don’t think any of that prevents someone coming in who is asymptomatic and spreading it," he said. “It poses a risk to each of us that just is not necessary at all. ... Prevention is the most important thing."

Here are some questions and answers on what returning to work will look like:

HOW ARE COMPANIES MONITORING EMPLOYEE HEALTH?

Companies are introducing a variety of new tools and techniques to monitor the health of their employees. The simplest method is temperature checks. A variety of companies make no-touch infrared forehead or camera temperature takers. U.S. automakers, for example, make employees fill out questionnaires daily to see if they have symptoms, take temperatures with no-touch thermometers before workers enter buildings, and require gloves, masks and face shields.