January 2021

Small Businesses Minimize COVID-19 Risks With Public-Private Collaboration

Educational outreach program from Michigan’s OSHA agency helps employers protect employees and customers.
Applied Fitness Solutions

Walk in the door at Applied Fitness Solutions in Plymouth, Mich., and you’ll see a sticker declaring the business is a proud participant in the State of Michigan’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Ambassador Program.

COVID-19 Workplace Safety Ambassador Program

The program is a collaborative, educational service from Michigan’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) agency, MIOSHA, and NSF. The sticker informs visitors that the business has gone above and beyond what’s required to minimize COVID-19 risk for employees and customers.

“As a business owner, I’m looking for ways to reassure my clients that this is a safe space – or at least as safe as we can possibly make it during a pandemic,” said Mike Stack, founder and owner of Applied Fitness Solutions. The sticker is useful because it’s not always easy to see all the coronavirus controls and preventive measures a business puts in place to minimize risk.

Guidance and Education for Small Businesses

Guidance and Education at Applied Fitness Solutions

To deliver the program, MIOSHA collaborated with NSF. NSF’s ambassadors are visiting thousands of Michigan businesses, assessing compliance with the state’s COVID-19 safety requirements and providing guidance and education when necessary.

“We’ve found businesses around the world are drowning in COVID-19 guidelines, but what they really need is help operationalizing those guidelines and applying them to their specific locations,” said Paul Medeiros, Managing Director of Consulting and Technical Services for NSF’s North American operations. “With the Ambassador program, MIOSHA is taking an innovative approach to serve an unmet need among Michigan businesses.”

You can read Paul Medeiros’ recent op-ed on the benefits of the innovative program at the Lansing State Journal.

Educate Before You Regulate

With a focus on restaurants, retail and fitness centers, this educate-before-you-regulate approach is aimed at helping business succeed during the pandemic by protecting workers and customers alike.

Employers who might normally be hesitant to invite workplace safety regulators into their businesses are embracing the MIOSHA Ambassador program. The key: NSF’s ambassadors have no power to issue fines or citations. Education is their only priority. They are simply helping businesses take the appropriate steps to comply with state COVID-19 requirements and operate safely during a pandemic.

When NSF’s role in the program was announced in November 2020, Applied Fitness Solutions was the first Michigan business to request an ambassador visit – not because they needed help developing a COVID-19 control plan, but because they wanted an independent review of their existing plan and suggestions for how they might improve it.

“The ambassador visit was extremely reassuring to me as a business owner, because I think we all want to keep our customers as safe as possible,” Stack said. “Having someone like NSF and MIOSHA put a stamp of approval on our COVID-19 playbook was very reassuring.”

COVID-19 Pandemic Playbook

At Applied Fitness Solutions, COVID-19 safety starts with mask use. All employees and members are required to wear masks while in the building. Instead of group fitness classes, members can drop in at any time to work out with a trainer. This helps reduce capacity and makes physical distancing easier. The business increased airflow and added MERV 13 air filters to HVAC systems. Everyone pitches in to sanitize equipment after each use and the facility is deep cleaned and sanitized every day.

“We even purchased touch-free digital thermometers for each location to make it easy to take your temperature when you first come in the door,” Stack said.

Applied Fitness Solutions seems to have it all figured out, but Stack is quick to note they had plenty of help getting to where they are today. In spring 2020, Stack reached out to friends and colleagues in the public health field to find out exactly what he would need to do to reopen and stay open safely with minimal risk to employees and clients. He studied CDC and WHO guidelines and talked to local public health experts. Additionally, as a board member for the Michigan Fitness Club Association, Stack was able to consult with other gym owners in the state. With all this help, he was able to develop a 50-page pandemic operations playbook.

“I was fortunate to have the relationships and resources to develop this playbook,” Stack said. “But not every business has the time and resources to do this.”

He recommends the MIOSHA program to any business owner who needs help applying the COVID-19 guidelines to their workplace.