INsight: Breakroom Safety in Light of COVID-19

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

It’s a bit ironic that June is National Safety Month since safety has been in the forefront of everyone’s minds for several months now and will be for months to come. A national pandemic certainly has a way of refocusing the attention of the masses.

Those masses are now returning to their workplaces and trying to, cautiously, proceed with business as usual. Though business as usual may never quite look the same! Breakrooms, for example, used to be an area for congregating with coworkers and enjoying some downtime, a quick side conversation, or a communal lunch. With social distancing protocols in place, how can those spaces still add value and functionality? We’ve consulted a few sources to find out how you can keep breakroom spaces safe for employee use.

Though some sources recommend closing common eating areas altogether, there are other options if they are managed effectively. The key is to look at the size of the space and the number of people who frequent the space throughout the day. Then consider the following:

  • Create distance — Everyone should be aware of the 6-foot rule by now. Does your space help adhere to those standards? If not, remove tables and chairs to ensure that space is upheld, even at full capacity. Consider installing dividers or barricades to limit the spread of COVID-19.

  • Hazard controls — In addition to removing and rearranging furniture, consider further social distancing cues like signs, decals, or colored tape to indicate where to stand or walk when physical barriers are not possible. Also, replace high-touch items, such as coffee pots and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as pre-packaged, single-serve items.

  • Hands-free design — Hands-free door and foot levers or voice-activated controls are a very effective way to reduce contact and spread of illness-causing germs. A CDC study shows that 80% of these germs are spread by your hands. Integrating these hands-free controls into restrooms and break areas is an easy, low-cost solution that really pays off in enhanced well-being

  • Cleaning/sanitation — Advise employees about proper hand and kitchen hygiene, including washing hands and wiping down counters, chairs, and tables after use. Common areas should also be deep-cleaned frequently throughout the day to further ensure safety, and those cleaning times should be recorded and posted.

  • An action plan — In addition to the physical changes listed above, keeping employees safe means altering their own individual behavior. Create a company-wide break schedule so visits to common break areas are staggered and interactions are limited. You may even consider tracking who sits where with clear communication regarding expected seating assignments and priorities for cleaning protocol.

Whichever path you take, maintaining a safe workspace will be a team effort, so clear communication and training is vital, as is providing support to supervisors and employees as they ease back into this crazy, new world. Continue to keep yourself educated by consulting with experts and evaluating potential risks as the situation progresses. By implementing a few new methods, you’ll make the return to the office a more comfortable and healthy experience for all!