COVID-19: How Social Distancing and Other Measures Fit into the Traditional Hierarchy of Controls

Some workplaces are measuring the temperatures of workers and visitors before they enter the workplace.

Like any workplace hazard, the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace can be slowed or eliminated by using a hierarchy of controls like those created for other hazardous exposures.


The first step in the hierarchy of controls, however sometimes elimination of a hazard is not possible. Until a vaccine or other countermeasures are identified, COVID-19 is a potential hazard in the workplace. Review, update, or develop workplace plans to potentially include:  Liberal leave and telework policies including a leave policy for workers with COVID-19 symptoms; encourage employees to stay home and notify workplace administrators when sick; and provide non-punitive sick leave options to allow staff to stay home when ill.


COVID-19 is not a hazardous chemical or process that can be replaced with a less-dangerous option. However, some employers are implementing a new way for employees to work. Many employees are working remotely, and whenever possible, this is recommended. However, for many production facilities, remote work is not an option, which makes engineering controls a vital piece of a return-to-work strategy.

Engineering Controls

Implement social distancing whenever possible by separating work- stations or creating barriers between workers. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces during the work shift . Ensure hand hygiene supplies are readily available in building and placed strategically throughout the workspace.

Administrative Controls

Develop a COVID-19/Pandemic-specific policy and associated procedures and train the workforce on the measures to limit exposure to COVID-19. Stagger work shifts when possible. Decrease social contacts in the workplace that require the assembly of people.  Limit , work-related gatherings like  lunch and break periods, staff meetings, after-work functions). Cancel non-essential work travel. Encourage personal protective measures among staff (e.g., stay home when sick, handwashing, respiratory etiquette). Consider regular health checks (e.g., temperature and respiratory symptom screening) of staff and visitors entering buildings (if feasible).


In the case of COVID-19, personal protection equipment becomes personal protective measures. These include frequent handwashing, avoiding touching hands to the face or eyes, proper cough etiquette (cough or sneeze into the shoulder facing away from coworkers), and the use of face coverings when feasible. ConsiderpProtective hand protection, a face shield or googles or protective garments for specific job tasks where risks dictate additional protection.

Workplace mitigation strategies for COVID-19 are actions that managers and employees can take to slow the spread of infectious diseases. These strategies are particularly important as businesses reopen or ramp back up to pre-COVID-19 production levels.

Each workplace is unique and because some of these measures can be disruptive to production, appropriate mitigation strategies will vary based on the level of community (workplace) transmission, characteristics of the community (workers) and their populations, and the local capacity to implement strategies. Keeping the traditional hierarchy of controls in mind can help manage return to work efforts.

This entry was posted in EHSQ, Health & Safety Management and tagged , , , by Sandy Smith. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the Global EHSQ Content Lead for Intelex Technologies. Formerly the Content Director for EHS Today, she has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. Her work as a journalist and editor has been recognized with national and international awards. She has been interviewed about occupational safety and health for national business publications, documentaries and television programs; has served as a panelist on roundtables; and has provided the keynote address for occupational safety and health conferences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.