Businesses are gradually reopening and hiring again, but employees and customers are nervous.

Facemasks are now a common sight. Retailers and restaurants have taped out safe spaces. These are reminders that the invisible COVID-19 virus is still lurking.

Whether employers can make employees and customers feel safe will determine the success of Alaska’s reopening. Workers have complained that the responses by some business operators, mainly operators in small retail, restaurant and drinking establishments, has been uneven.

Rashad Perry, a worker in the restaurant industry, told the House Health and Social Services Committee July 8. While many restaurants are able to implement measures like face masks and disinfection of surfaces, physical distancing practices are uneven, he said.

A key problem is that decisions on COVID-19 safety are left to local managers who in many cases are unaware of the latest recommendations, Perry said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy wants state health advisories, including face masks, kept as advisory although they are called mandates. Although the measures are voluntary, the state state Department of Labor and Workforce Development has ramped up programs to help employers deal with keeping employees and customers safe during the virus pandemic.

“Alaska Occupational Safety and Health has various resources in place to provide information and guidance to a growing number of questions that we are receiving,” said Dr. Tamika L. Ledbetter, the department’s commissioner.

Dr. Ledbetter outlined several services and resources employers and workers may find beneficial.

COVID-19 Safety Plan—Many employers have called DOLWD’s Consultation and Training Section asking how to develop a COVID-19 Safety Plan. A template for this is located on the Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH) website. The template is flexible and allows employers to adapt and make changes to their establishment.

It addresses items such as management and employee responsibilities; employees exhibiting symptoms; job site cleaning and disinfecting; work practice control; personal protective equipment, and much more. Additionally, employers can ask an AKOSH consultants to assist with reviewing their plan.

A COVID-19 safety template can be located at: COVID-19 Safety Plan Example Template (Word doc). Employers who are mandated to submit a plan can go to: https://covid19.alaska.gov/unified-command/protective-plans/ for detailed information on where to submit their plans. Instructions on developing a COVID-19 safety plan can also be found at this link.

Consultation Visits—Employers who are interested in having a consultant come to their establishment and consult on workplace safety hazards have the opportunity to seek guidance regarding COVID-19 workplace protocols through the consultation and training section.

Consultation visits are free to the employer and confidential. To request a visit, complete the Request for Service form located at: https://labor.alaska.gov/lss/forms/consultation_training_form.pdf

Training—Throughout the pandemic, employers have contacted the consultation and training section asking for training on worker safety protocols. Free training is provided to employers in person as well as through virtual platforms. Additionally, to practice use of social distancing methods, in-person training is offered to small groups of ten or less, including the trainer.

Interested employers can call (907)269-4955 to schedule an appointment.

General COVID-19 Guidance on Recordkeeping—The division’s Consultants are available to answer calls and questions regarding recording and reporting COVID-19 cases to AKOSH. For clarification on when a COVID-19 case is recordable or reportable, go to: https://labor.alaska.gov/lss/training/OSHA_Recording_Reporting_COVID-19.pdf

Webpage Resources—The AKOSH Webpage has myriad of links to COVID-19 information to assist employers navigate their way through the changing workplace climate. Resources such as training videos, request for services, CDC recommendations, Federal and State COVID-19 information, and much more can be found at: https://labor.alaska.gov/lss/oshhome.htm. For current State of Alaska Health and Social Services COVID-19 information, go to: https://covid19.alaska.gov/

Worker Retaliation—There is protection for employees who report an employer who fails to provide a safe work environment. Employees who makes a safety or health complaint are protected from employee retaliation. AKOSH investigates complaints and pursues for appropriate corrective action.

An employee who has experienced employer retaliation can file a complaint to the AKOSH Discrimination unit by calling (800)770-4940 or (907)269-4940. It is important to note a complaint must be filed within 30 days of the adverse action.

Employers can contact the Chief of Consultation and Training to discuss which services are best suited for their needs at: Elaine.Banda@alaska.gov or call 907-269-4944.

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