Resuming to the workplace post – COVID-19 lockdown
Drifting through the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath is one of the biggest business challenges of today’s time. World’s various health agencies like WHO, CDC, and ECDC have suggested several preventive measures to deal with COVID 19, including those affecting workplaces, to fight the spread of the disease. We left offices and other facilities relatively empty for a while, and the “while” is close to 75 days and even more in a few places. Its companies decision how and when to start the complex task of returning to the workplace once the government revokes the restrictions. None of us can afford to disregard even tiny details of safety measures now onwards; we must adhere to defined guidelines and perform essential duties accordingly. Besides that, management needs to understand the dilemmas their people will go through when asked to resume office in such a fatal COVID scenario. A wise corporate must draft a course of action to take their workforces from crisis to recovery phase.
Businesses across the world got severely hit during this crisis, and now the gradual resumption of work activities requires many preparations to be agile and innoxious for all. However, regardless of up to what extent normal work activities resume, some restrictions may remain in place to avoid a steep increase in infection rates. Furthermore, it may happen that an increase in infections will require the reintroduction of restrictive measures.
The COVID-19 crisis pressure is on everyone’s kitty; the proportion may vary, but still, a substantial chunk of people needs to get back to the workplace to bring things in order and to keep the business running. Whether to implement new procedures and practices or to resume their usual work and business activities, the decision is complicated—corporates need to offer support for restarting the office. Taking appropriate preventive measures will undoubtedly help to achieve a safe and healthy workplace and will contribute to suppressing the further transmission of COVID-19 while working.
The physical distancing measures achieved a sufficient reduction in COVID-19 transmission so far and still can do better if followed, as per the guidelines. Likewise, there are many preventive measures, and must-do activities to be followed blindly.
Recommence risk assessment and take suitable actions
Recognizing and assessing risks in both physical and psychosocial working environments is the starting point for managing safety and health under COVID-19 standards. The attention should be given to anomalies or situations that may cause problems and help the organization become more rebounding in the long term. Connecting employees and management during the risk assessment can be an incredible approach. The next move should be to make an action plan with suitable measures post getting an updated risk assessment.
Shrinking the COVID-19 exposure at the workplace
Safe work practices need to be implemented to keep a check on the exposure to COVID-19; this requires an ongoing risk assessment and the use of a hierarchy of controls
- Technical Measures (e.g., encasing, exhaust)
- Organizational Measures (e.g., only qualified employees can do specified work)
- Personal Measures (e.g., wearing PPE, Mask, Gloves, etc.)
- Behavioral Measures (e.g., peer-observation)
One can start with technical measures and possibly supplement them with personal measures. The following steps provide an essential roadmap to help employers navigate the workplace safety challenges before bringing employees on the premises and post-resuming regular office operations.
- Consider returning to work in stages to allow adaptations to be carried out. Be sure to inform employees about the changes and provide them with new procedures and training well in advance.
- Contact your occupational health service provider and health & safety advisor to discuss your plan.
- One of the most critical aspects is that all companies should set up isolation facilities on office premises irrespective of their size. These rooms need an independent HVAC system (AC system) and access to protective equipment such as PPE kits, sanitizers, and gloves.
- Every organization, irrespective of its size, must do testing at the entry point, sanitize the workplace, and having a doctor available on the premises or in close contact.
- Avoid in-person client meetings and deal with them remotely as much as possible. Also, minimize third-party presence in the office.
- Arrange the timing of meals and breaks to reduce the number of people sharing a cafeteria, staff room, kitchen, and other shared spaces.
- Ask vulnerable employees to work from homes like older people and those with chronic conditions, like hypertension, lung or heart problems, diabetes, or undergoing cancer treatment & other immunosuppression and pregnancy.
- Employees with high-risk family members should be allowed to do remote work.
- Employees must be provided with clean and hygienic facilities like toilets, cafeterias, hand washing areas, with the appropriate precautions (such as allowing one user at a time and frequent cleaning; minimum twice a day or more).
- Clean your premises periodically, especially counters, door handles, tools, and other surfaces that people frequently touch and provide proper ventilation.
- Advise employees on hygiene rules and provide them with appropriate sanitation gel & wipes.
- Ensure regular water supply or appropriate hand sanitizer at convenient places and advise everyone to wash their hands frequently.
- Provide waste bins lined with a plastic bag so that they can be emptied without contacting the contents.
- Place a barrier between Employees if they cannot keep a 2-meter distance from each other. Fences can be purpose-made or improvised using items such as plastic sheeting, partitions, mobile drawers, or storage units. In the case of no barrier, additional space between employees should be created.
- Arrange shifts to take account of cleaning and sanitation duties.
- Ask employees to avoid public transport & facilitate secure car & bike parking areas and encourage Employees to walk to work, if living at a short distance.
- Place posters that promote staying home if unwell, cough and sneeze etiquette, hand hygiene, and more throughout the office spaces.
- Any Employees who develop flu-like symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath, fever) should go home immediately and contact the public health service.
Despite having applied all feasible safety measures, if an individual report Covid-19 symptom at the workplace, a designated team should get them to the isolation room. Until they are moved off the premises, they will have to wear a PPE kit. If they test positive, the company must inform the Health department and perform contact tracing. All those who came in contact would be asked to self-isolate and seek medical attention.
Connect with your employees
You must consult your employees and their representatives besides the health and safety deputies well in advance about proposed reforms and how temporary processes will work in practice. Engaging your people in assessing risks and developing responses is an integral part of good health and safety practice. Employers & employees together can establish preventive measures and ensure its successful implementation. Every employee can contribute to being safe and keeping others safe:
Precautionary measures that can be practiced by employees
- Maintain physical distancing, whether it’s inside or outside.
- Reduce physical contact between colleagues (e.g., during meetings or breaks) and avoiding gatherings. If close contact is inevitable, keep it to less than 15 minutes.
- Work in solitude, if you can carry out tasks alone and do not require people around you.
- Define your chair, don’t use anyone else’s chair, and don’t share food or snacks on the desks.
- Use of facemasks and gloves wherever possible.
- Avoid touching your hair, nose, or mouth.
- As soon as you realize that you have contacted an infected patient, inform the authority, and go in self-solation.
- Self-report, in case your family members or neighbours test positive for Covid-19.
Take care of employees who have been sick
Severely ill employees need special consideration even after being declared fit for work. There are a few indications that coronavirus patients may suffer from post-recovery as about the disease. Employees in this situation may need their work to be adapted and need time off to undergo further treatment and recovery. Also, be conscious of the risk that Employees who have been ill with COVID-19 may experience stigma and discrimination.
Stay thoroughly informed
The volume of information associated with COVID-19 can be overwhelming, and it is challenging to distinguish between reliable and accurate from the vague and misleading pieces of information. Always validate the primary source of information, whether it’s established and qualified or not. For credible sources of information on COVID-19, you can rely on:
- World Health Organization
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
- European Commission
- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
Prepare yourself and learn for the future
It is essential to draw up or modernize the crisis contingency plans and prepare for a similar situation in the future. Enterprises that have used remote working for the first time may consider adopting it as a modern, long-term working style. The experience merited during the COVID-19 pandemic may support into developing a steadier remote working policy and procedures or revising existing ones.
All this may embed a significant financial strain on numerous organizations. So, there may be a reduction in the pace of operations. The focus must be on enabling remote workings wherever possible and let others join the workplace; all these norms should be defined and decided to keep in mind about the ROI and business. Even when workplaces are up and running, not everyone will be willing to join the office at the same time. So, we need to create rosters where teams come in at certain times during the day, complete their work, and leave. We can also consider many other options based on strength and company size. We will have to analyze all the circumstances before driving back to the office premises.
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