Researchers team up with business owners to offer guidance on reopening in the pandemic

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health have surveyed business leaders in Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska to identify concerns about reopening and offer solutions.

The researchers hope the survey will reveal new strategies some workplaces are using that could help others—particularly small businesses running on thinner margins. They also plan to draw on the results to develop industry-specific guidance for this and future pandemics.

The effort is a collaboration between Marissa Baker, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, and Marc Beaudreau, a research industrial hygienist and lab manager for the department's Field Group. The group provides businesses in Washington state with free occupational safety and health consultation.

Motivated to help companies navigate the COVID-19 pandemic to find cost-effective solutions, Beaudreau and Baker developed and launched the survey in May. Business leaders were asked about workplace policies before and after COVID-19, and about concerns they may have related to reopening.

"Businesses will be looking for ways to create new, affordable controls that will bridge the gap until we get a better handle on this pandemic,” Beaudreau said. “I’m optimistic that we can help companies strategize and implement ‘in house’ controls and ideas.”

In collaboration with Nicole Errett, a lecturer in the department, they are creating resources to ensure businesses have emergency preparedness plans. In the long term, Baker hopes to understand what factors influence businesses’ abilities to enact successful exposure controls, or even reopen at all, during a pandemic threat.

“The workplace is mandated to help workers; the workers should not have to change,” Baker said. “By working with the workplaces, we’re able to create some upstream prevention, which is really what public health is about.”

Other collaborators on the project include Martin Cohen, principal lecturer, assistant chair and director of the Field Group, and Nancy Simcox, lecturer and director of the department's Continuing Education Programs.

Learn more on the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences blog.