ADAPTING

The new-look Covid workplace

ILO has formulated guidelines to help organisations adapt to the evolving requirements.

In Summary

• Employers have a duty to protect not only their workers but also the workers’ families, their customers and other stakeholders to keep the economy running.

• This will require fundamental changes in company operations

With the emerging reality that Covid-19 will fester for years, organisations should adapt their operations to cater for social distancing, hygiene and other measures to control the spread of the virus. Employers have a fiduciary duty to protect not only their workers but also the workers’ families, their customers and other interlocutors to keep the economy running.

This will require fundamental changes in company operations. The first step is a thorough risk assessment of workplaces and development of return-to-work plans that protect workers from contracting the virus.

The International Labour Organisation has formulated a guideline to help organisations adapt to the evolving requirements of workplace safety. The guidelines recommend that organisations should consider gradual resumption of work, starting with the core businesses. Stagger working hours through shifts to reduce congestion at work.

All organisations should develop proper screening of employees to identify those predisposed to the virus arising from medical conditions such as hypertension, lung or heart problems, diabetes, cancer or some immunosuppression ailments as well as pregnant employees. This group, together with those over 58 years, should be allowed to work from home. All employees’ health record must remain confidential as per the law.

At the workstation, employers are expected to provide personal hygiene facilities such as provision of handwashing facilities, alcohol-based hand gels as well as advise employees to observe personal hygiene.

Due to the high cost of PPE, collective protection measures such as installation of plastic panels to separate workers or use of ribbons/tapes to ensure physical distancing should be prioritised. Face masks are, however, recommended where physical distancing measures cannot be respected.

Cleaning the workplace, equipment and facilities should be documented, high touch/traffic areas such as canteens, shared desks, corridors, door and window handles, vending machines, elevator buttons, light switches, washbasin taps, soap dispensers, control panels or buttons for commonly shared machines, should be given special attention. Workplaces and toilets should also have enough ventilation.

Due to the high cost of PPE, collective protection measures such as installation of plastic panels to separate workers or use of ribbons/tapes to ensure physical distancing should be prioritised. Face masks are, however, recommended where physical distancing measures cannot be respected.

Employees with Covid-19 symptoms should seek urgent medical attention. All employees should be screened at the gate for temperature, and those with over 37.5°C taken to designated isolation rooms.

Employees using public transport to work should adhere strictly to the Ministry of Health protocols—maintaining physical distance, wearing face masks and sanitising their hands. Those who can walk to work should be encouraged to do so. Employers should expand parking space. Companies that provide transport vans and buses should comply with health protocols.

Once at work, employees should avoid crowding at entrances and exits and instead go out in phases. They should maintain physical distancing and reduce their interactions to the barest minimum. Those who interact must create a contact log to be kept by their supervisors.

In large service areas, notices, posters, and floor markings or tapes should be used to constantly remind employees of Covid-19 protocols. Sitting arrangements where employees face one another should be discouraged. Magazines and other hard copy reading materials, including those provided at the reception area, must be put away. Staff meetings, trainings and travels should be limited. Suppliers should follow a clear plan to avoid crowding during loading and offloading. Cashless transactions should be encouraged.

We should take care of those impacted negatively by the pandemic—including by being infected, isolated or quarantined, losing a family member or job, being put on unpaid leave, working from home for a long time or having increased workloads—so they do not develop mental ailments.

Employers should create Covid-19 policies to sensitise, train and manage the virus situation at work. Such policies should be documented and shared widely with employees and other stakeholders.