Businesses in Blue Ash have taken extraordinarily creative steps to overcome the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this Blue Ash Economic Development Business Spotlight Series, find out what these businesses have accomplished, why Blue Ash is the place for entrepreneurs and businesses to thrive, and why business owners still see a bright future ahead.
Q & A with Melissa M. Rupert, CIH, MS, Director, Industrial Hygiene, SevenGen
10901 Reed Hartman Hwy, Suite 211
Blue Ash, OH 45242
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Seven Gen and why the company located in Blue Ash?
A: SevenGen is a full-service environmental, health, and safety consulting company. We help employers, big and small, develop proactive health and safety programs that protect employees and company assets and assist employers in developing and managing programs that comply with both OSHA and EPA requirements. Our services are customized to meet the specific needs for each of our clients. Blue Ash was a perfect location for our organization. It is centrally located, easily accessible from major interstates, and gets us close to many of our clients. It has also provided us with many great locations for productive brunches, lunches, and networking opportunities.
Q: How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your business?
A: As with most other employers, our business was heavily impacted at the beginning of the pandemic. When things shut down, our business came to a grinding halt. Our company relies on being able to visit our clients where they are – at their own places of business. With the pandemic, many of our clients weren’t allowing visitors onsite, and this definitely impacted our organization.
Q: What did your company do? What adjustments did you have to make?
A: As with many businesses, our company had to temporarily pivot to both survive AND to meet our clients’ emergent needs. As a health and safety company, the focus of our business is ALWAYS to help our clients provide a healthy and safe work environment for their employees. We pivoted to help our clients focus on the public health crisis, providing them with information on how to minimize transmission of COVID-19 within their facilities, providing testing to determine the effectiveness of their cleaning protocols, and helping our clients find personal protective equipment in a time when that equipment was scarce. As well, because many of our clients were no longer allowing visitors onsite, we had to take a look at how we were providing some of our service offerings. OSHA and EPA compliance training requirements were offered virtually, safety inspections became a partnership with some of our clients sending us video footage of the area in question or even tag-teaming us in on Facetime calls so that we could “see” the site without being onsite, and continuing to help our clients mitigate COVID-19 transmission risk became an important part of our survival.
Q: As employees return to the office, what can employers do to minimize the spread of COVID-19? in the workplace?
A: COVID-19 has three primary transmission routes. Through person-to-person contact, through aerosolized droplets, and through contact with contaminated surfaces (called fomites). Minimizing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace will require employers to consider all of these transmission pathways. Employers should consider ways to create social distancing within their work areas when possible – such as by rotating employee schedules to reduce the number of people onsite at a time or reconfiguring office and production areas when possible to allow for as much distance between people as possible. Employers should also continue to enforce the use of masks in indoor areas (among both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals) and encourage frequent handwashing by all employees. These things are nothing new as the CDC has been communicating these strategies for some time, and when done correctly, can be an extremely effective way to reduce transmission in the workplace. However, employers can get even more creative by looking at locating HEPA filters throughout work areas or having controls installed on their central HVAC systems to help reduce COVID-19 (such as UV light systems, HEPA filters, and others), having studies done of the pathway of air through their facility to identify where air (and aerosols like COVID-19) are accumulating, assuring adequate fresh air into their building, having surfaces tested for SARS-CoV-2 to determine the effectiveness of cleaning procedures, and even avoiding having meetings in small conference rooms when possible. By themselves, none of these things will stop transmission, but deploying multiple control methods at the same time can be effective to minimize the spread of COVID-19 (and other viruses!!) in the workplace.
Q: What are the challenges employers are seeing with returning employees to the office at this time?
A: I think most employers are experiencing a level of uncertainty that makes it hard to plan and know what the right answers are. Uncertainty in when to return people to the office, uncertainty in the effectiveness of vaccines against the Delta variant, as well as uncertainty in how to return people to the office, and how to protect people once they are in the office has made it hard to be an employer. That’s why the best thing employers can do is to follow all guidance submitted by the CDC. At this time, when the situation is so dynamic, listening to the scientists is the best thing any of us can do, and as our scientists learn more, the guidance they provide will evolve. As well, employers are being challenged as some employees are reluctant to return to the workplace. Being sympathetic to those employees and then establishing a robust communication plan to deliver to employees about the ways the employer is making the workplace safe, can help alleviate some of that stress and anxiety in returning to the office.
Q: What resources are available to employers when it comes to improving the health and safety of employees in the workplace?
A: Employers should know that OSHA has submitted a draft emergency standard for controlling COVID-19 spread in the workplace. If that standard is approved by the Office of Management and Budget, then employers will need to familiarize themselves with that standard and implement the requirements within it. That said, there are some excellent guidance documents for all kinds of businesses – big and small – through an organization called the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). They have developed a program called Back to Work Safely that has guidance for employers ranging from the Bar Industry to Childcare Centers to Offices to Manufacturing and beyond. It is a FREE and excellent resource. www.backtoworksafely.org. As well, our company has been helping many of our clients create safe and healthy work environments through site-specific safety plans for COVID-19. We consider the size of the employer and the type of work they do in those plans to help take some of the uncertainty of returning their employees to work. We just want employers to be safe so that their businesses and employees can thrive and get back to the business of doing business.
Q: What is next for your company? What do you think the future holds?
A: Our company is stronger than ever. Our ability to pivot became important to our clients. Most of our clients are now allowing visitors back on their properties and in some ways, it has become “business as usual”. However, the pandemic will have a lasting effect on all of us, as individuals, and as businesses. Our organization is better prepared for the future, creating engaging virtual training and creating new lines of virtual services for our clients. This pandemic has given us the push we needed to move our organization forward by providing the opportunity for us to adopt and leverage technology to improve efficiency and create new service options for our clients.
Q: What advice would you give to other business owners facing COVID-19 challenges?
A: Your people are your most important asset. Taking care of their health and safety will always be the right thing, and will many times reduce the impact of injury and illness on your business. As well, take a fresh look at HOW you are doing business and think outside of the box. Take a hard look at what normal you want to return to and use this time to make changes. It may be uncomfortable, but creativity can lead to innovation and can be the spark your business needs to set you apart from your competitors.
Has your company had to adapt or create new products/ services to meet your customers’ needs due to COVID-19? Email Economic Development Director Neil Hensley and your company could be featured in a future Blue Ash Business Spotlight.