It’s time to get used to the fact that the workplace will no longer be the same and that companies must make a fundamental investment in the protection of workers and their families to ensure their continuity in 2021 and beyond. So what are the strategies that employers could use to organize a safe return and operate safely and securely in the new world of work?

We look to the International Labor Organization for guidance on how employers can successfully implement safety and recovery measures in response to the pandemic. Here are 10 Actionable Tips For a Covid-safe Workplace to help companies re-engage employees and start a safety-first culture in a post-Covid world.

1. Set up a Safety Task-force

Set up a team with the same number of members representing management and workers. Consider the broadest of representations, for example, group teams per department, location, roles and disciplines, etc. Whatever makes the most sense in your organization. Here are some suggested steps to get started –

Identify experts in risk prevention, crisis and emergency management, as well as health services who are already part of your organization to step up and take on safety task-force roles.

Communicate with all the workers about the team and its work.

Develop prevention and control measures that are based on risk assessments such as the probability and severity of hazards and their impact on working conditions.

Train team members on the basic principles for the formulation and implementation of preventive and control measures.

Inform team members about the steps to follow to organize a safe and healthy return to work and integrate the plan as much as possible into the business continuity plan.

Ensure the team is aware of national measures and can carry out the necessary consultations with local agencies, i.e. 911 first responders, health department, etc.

Have regular discussions and document minutes including decisions taken, responsible persons, deadlines and implementation mechanisms.


2. Plan For Who Returns To Work and How

Before resuming any business activity, ensure that prevention and control measures based on risk assessments are implemented and that all workers are informed about the step-by-step process before returning to work. Some more strategies to consider –

Establish policies and procedures regarding the number of workers and visitors at the workplace.

If possible, resume activities in phases from a minimum level to a normal level of operations.

If a phased approach is adopted, identify critical staff who will assist workplaces during the reopening process.

Identify focal points on-site to monitor prevention and control measures.

Adopt staggered working hours, alternating working days and work rotation mechanisms to avoid groupings of workers.

During the reopening process, avoid the attendance of workers from higher risk groups, for example, those over 60 years of age, with pre-existing health conditions and pregnant or breastfeeding workers.

If possible, implement specific measures for at-risk workers such as remote-working and prioritize tasks with minimal risk exposure.

Consider COVID-19 measures that can prevent workers from resuming tasks in the workplace. For example, closure of kindergartens, schools, geriatrics, childcare services.

Prioritize private transportation for workers during the reopening phase and, if possible, facilitate parking.

Consider public guidance for collective passenger transport including physical distancing and wearing of masks.


3. Implement Physical and Social Distancing

Review your current processes and workspaces to reduce physical contact between people and identify which ones can be done exclusively through remote work. For activities that require workers to be physically present on-site, consider these physical and social distancing guidelines –

• Install physical safety barriers and/or partitions to ensure physical distancing between workers who share the workplace, as well as between workers and third parties such as customers, suppliers, and visitors.

Determine and signal the maximum capacity of the workplace and locals, such as meeting rooms, offices, waiting rooms, dining rooms, elevators, bathrooms, changing rooms, in order to ensure a physical distancing of at least 6 feet.

As much as possible, temporarily provide additional spaces in the workplace to ensure physical distancing.

Organize access to the workplace for both workers and third parties not to exceed the maximum capacity and guarantee the minimum recommended separation, such as floor marking, signage of maximum occupancy.

Organize workplace traffic lanes to avoid two-way traffic without the recommended minimum separation of 6 feet.


4. Reduce the concentration of workers on-site

In case of work shifts, defer the start and end times of the shifts. If necessary, establish differentiated days of work attendance.

Defer the use of common rooms, like dining rooms, rest and changing rooms to a minimum capacity that allows the separation of 6 feet between persons.

During the restart of activities, avoid external visits, and re-evaluate this measure continuously.

Temporarily restrict meal preparation in the workplace and allow packaged options instead.

Ensure proper maintenance/installation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Ventilate the workplace daily, preferably with natural ventilation, and in the case of work shifts, repeat the natural ventilation between each shift.

• In case of mechanical ventilation, maintain recirculation with outdoor air.

Avoid the use of individual fans.


5. Implement Regular Cleaning and Disinfection

Inform workers and third parties about cleaning and disinfection measures including a timetable.

Prioritize the use of electrostatic spray surface cleaning and only use chemicals approved by national authorities.

Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection of facilities, machines, work equipment, surfaces and heavy traffic areas, as well as garbage collection.

Promote a “I keep my workstation clean and tidy” commitment among workers and encourage frequent sanitation breaks.

Avoid sharing items such as office supplies and tableware.

Clearly separate workplace zones for specific tasks to avoid cross contamination.

Ensure cleaning and disinfection procedures for goods/supplies/mail/packages received.

Restrict access to areas disinfected with chemical products that require a safety period.

Communicate and address issues related to cleaning and disinfection of premises.


6. Promote Personal Hygiene Habits

Provide workers with the conditions and means necessary for frequent hand washing with soap and water for a duration of least 40 seconds, or with a disinfectant gel that has a minimum of 60 per cent alcohol with a duration of at least 20 seconds.

If possible, install hand-washing facilities at the entrance and across the workplace/ premises. Prioritize the use of liquid soap dispensers instead of soap tablets.

Prioritize the use of paper towels instead of fabric towels or electric air jet drying devices.

• Provide disinfectant gel with a minimum of 60 per cent alcohol to workers and third parties permanently, particularly at the workplace entrance, and if possible, install alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations at the entrance and across the workplace.

• Ensure proper drying of hands after the use of alcohol gel, particularly before coming into contact with ignition sources (such as switches, lighters, surfaces with static energy).

• Discourage the use of rings, watches or bracelets that limit the effectiveness of hand hygiene measures.

• Promote proper hygiene practices for all when entering the workplace, as well as when returning home.

• Avoid physical contact when greeting. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth without having previously performed hand hygiene and disinfection.

• When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue or, if possible, with the inner face of the forearm/ elbow (not in hands), dispose of the tissue immediately then wash hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based disinfectant.

• Position trash containers or lidded bins, preferably with foot opening system, to dispose of tissues and promote separate waste management.

• Do not share food or drinks at the workplace.

• Restrict or reduce the use of cash by prioritizing other means of payment.

• If necessary for the type of task performed, provide means for complete hygiene by shower upon arrival and departure of the workplace, with change or disinfection of shoes.


7. Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

• Identify appropriate PPE related to the tasks and health and safety risks faced by workers according to the results of risk assessment and the level of risk.

• PPE must be accompanied with instructions, procedures, training and supervision for safe and responsible work.

• Maintain, clean, disinfect and store PPE properly. Ideally, PPE should not be shared with coworkers, however if duly justified, PPE could be shared if measures for proper cleaning and disinfection before and after use are followed.

• Only use PPE approved by relevant authorities. PPE must be provided to workers free of charge to them. Workers must make proper use of PPE and report its loss, destruction or any fault in it.

• For disposable PPE, arrange trash containers or lidded bins, preferably with foot opening system, to dispose of them after use and promote separate management of this waste.


8. Monitor the Health Status of Workers

• Implement protocols for cases of suspected and confirmed contagion, according to the instructions of national authorities.

• Develop protocols for workers with symptoms or confirmed contagion not to go to the workplace, to inform supervisors, to remain isolated at home and to follow the instructions of the protocol.

• Identify workers who have had close contact with people infected and affected by COVID-19 and follow the instructions of the medical service, health care professional and health authorities.

• Communicate confirmed cases in the workplace to the corresponding agencies to process benefits and other occupational contingencies or support.

• Take the body temperature of workers upon arrival at the workplace, preferably with contact less fever scanners and by competent staff.

• Monitor the health of high-risk workers, for example those over 60 years of age, with pre-existing diseases or health conditions, pregnant or breastfeeding workers.

• Keep medical information of the workers confidential.

• Adopt a zero tolerance policy for discriminating behavior against workers with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.


9.  Promote Mental Health and Wellbeing

• Effectively and regularly communicate about the changing nature of work due to COVID-19 and its impact on workers and the workplace.

• Monitor interactions among workers, and with third parties, to identify behavioral changes that may indicate psycho social risk factors.

• Make psychological counseling services available to workers in case of need.

• Encourage adequate rest, physical and mental activity and work-life balance.
Promote the right to disconnect for workers performing remote work.

• Provide information about ergonomic risks, particularly during remote work and in workstations adapted to COVID-19.

• Pay particular attention to workers in confined spaces and performing dangerous tasks.

• Promote a safe and healthy working environment free from violence and harassment.


10. Review and Update Emergency and Evacuation Plans

• Within the framework of the business continuity plan, review and update the emergency and evacuation plan of the workplace, considering the new distribution of tasks, the reduced number of workers, exit routes and safety zones.

• Do an inventory of emergency items such as extinguishers and first aid kits.

• Display maps of exit routes and their respective signage, meeting points and safety zones.

• Re-train emergency managers responsible for coordinating evacuations.

• Update contact details of emergency services including fire, police, and emergency medical services.

• Organize regular emergency and evacuation drills after review or development of the plan.

Source: ILO Standards and COVID-19


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