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Ensuring post COVID-19 lockdown safety for employees when returning to the workplace

The coronavirus pandemic, and the resulting nation-wide lockdown has led to most businesses having to temporarily shut their doors. As the South-African government is pursuing the phased re-opening of the economy, certain business sectors will be allowed to continue with their operations.

While businesses re-open it is essential that they ensure the continuity of operating under current circumstances, this would entail conforming to several guidelines that would ensure the safety of employers and employees alike, as well as minimising the spread of the virus.

In this article we look at some of these guidelines regarding travel advice, i.e. commuting of employees, meeting policies and preparedness as well as what to do if someone becomes ill with suspected COVID-19 in your workplace.

 

Travel advice

These guidelines are for employees to ensure safety while travelling to and from work.

Vulnerable persons, i.e. the elderly, or those with underlying health issues, should either completely avoid public transport, or try and travel outside of peak times in order to minimise contact with other people. Those who make use of public transport (taxi’s, trains, buses or even an Uber), should religiously use hand sanitiser and should wash their hands before and after travelling.

While travelling employees should be encouraged to always wear a face mask and to avoid touching their mouth, eyes and nose during their commute. Avoiding crowded public transport is essential to their health and if possible, employers should introduce flexible shifts for their employees to be able to avoid these crowded, confined spaces by travelling outside of peak hours.

Persons should try and implement social distancing guidelines as far as possible while commuting. If the mode of transport is not too crowded, they should try and keep a 1m distance between themselves and others. The nature of taxis, buses and trains, however, does not always allow for this, hence the need to sanitise and use face masks.

Employees should be given guidance on how to screen themselves before starting their commute to work. This would entail looking out for COVID-19 symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, a sore throat, and headaches. Additionally, a low-grade fever (37.3 °C or higher) is indicative of possible contamination, in which case, these employees should be advised to stay at home and self-isolate, along with contacting their healthcare provider and giving them the details of their symptoms.

 

Meeting policies and preparedness

These guidelines will ensure you proactively manage meetings and the risks they pose.

Before the meeting

First and foremost, considering whether your meeting could not be replaced by an online meeting. If this is not an option, consider which people are essential. At all times, try to have smaller meetings with the least amount of people attending as possible.

Before the meeting, provide enough supplies of hand sanitiser, tissues and extra face masks for those who may arrive without one.

 

WWISE offers kits for small, medium, and large enterprises, which consists of a combination of personal protective equipment as well as sanitisers and counter screens. To see what option is suitable for your business, please visit: https://www.wwise.co.za/covid-19-solutions/

 

Also be sure to advise meeting participants in advance to not attend the meeting if they are experiencing any of the COVID-19 symptoms. Additionally, organisations should develop a plan on how to respond in a case where any person at the meeting becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms.

During meetings

it is important to communicate information to the participants on the measures that as the organiser you have taken to ensure their safety during the meeting. You should encourage regular use of hand sanitiser by all participants.

When sneezing or coughing. Ensure that participants do so in a tissue or in their flexed elbow. Also, provide closed bins to safely dispose of used tissues. Provide dispensers of hand sanitisers around the meeting venue.

If the venue allows for it, arrange the seats in a way that participants will be at least 1m apart. Keep windows and doors of the venue open where possible, ensuring ventilation in the venue.

Provide contact details for a health provider that participants can phone for safety advice and information.

It is also especially important to keep a record of the participants names and contact details for at least a one month after the meeting was held. This aids public health authorities to trace people who may have been exposed to COVID-19, in the case that a participant becomes ill after the meeting. If a person at the meeting has been isolated as a suspected case of COVID-19, the meeting organiser should inform the other participants and they should monitor symptoms for 14 days thereafter.

 

What to do if someone becomes ill with suspected COVID-19 in the workplace

Employers should develop a response plan of steps to take when someone becomes ill with suspected COVID-19 in the workplace.

For your benefit, we have split this section into three phases, prevention, planning and communication.

  1. Prevention

Employers can act in a proactive manner by identifying and supporting persons who are more vulnerable to the virus, this should be done in a non-discriminating manner. Vulnerable persons would include those who live in higher risk areas, have travelled from higher risk areas, or have underlying medical conditions (i.e. respiratory problems, diabetes, or the elderly).

  1. Planning

Development of a plan that will ensure continuity of your business in the community in which it operates. This plan should prepare your business for a potential outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace. Additionally, the plan must outline how to keep your organisation operating even in the case that several employees and intermediaries cannot come to your premises.

  1. Communication

This requires the development of a communication plan by utilising a task team who will be answering employees’ concerns and providing additional education and information on COVID-19 risks. Ensure you have briefed and communicated the plan to all employees and intermediaries, and that they know what their role in the plan is. Placing an emphasis on key points i.e. the importance of not coming into work even if they are only showing mild symptoms.

By following these guidelines outlined above, businesses should be able to continue operations in an as safe as possible manner.

 

WWISE offers a COVID-19: Toolkit for Business

This toolkit is compiled of templates with instructions on all the above and more. The toolkits can be completed with specific information in order to ensure your organisation complies to the COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety Measures.

Toolkits consist of, a policy, COVID-19 plan, procedures, checklists, risk assessments, appointments, induction, posters, a work schedule, and an attendance register. For a quotation or more information on these toolkits, please email: admin@wwise.co.za