As offices gradually return to work in India, rules have been issued to help reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Offices are mandatorily required to have hand sanitisation stations and allow only asymptomatic workers to return. However, this alone will not be enough to eliminate the threat of the novel coronavirus. There is still a chance that the virus can be transmitted among workers who may seem asymptomatic if control measures are not adopted at the workplace. To control the risk of transmission at work, here is how you can ensure a safe return to the workplace for you and your employees by practising the following measures in our return to work guide.
Screen employees’ health before they return
Before your employees return to work, ensure that they are healthy by screening them. This is to ascertain that the workplace is at no risk of COVID-19 transmission. You can screen your employees in a few easy steps as listed below.
You can send out digital forms that need to be filled out by employees. Employees should respond to these forms at least three days before they resume working from the office. The form must contain questions regarding their general health and questions related to COVID-19. Firstly, they must confirm that they do not reside in a containment zone. Additionally, employees need to confirm that they are not suspected or have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last fortnight. Similarly, within the said period, they have not been in close contact with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 individual. If the individuals themselves were suspected or diagnosed with COVID-19, they must guarantee that they have completed the mandatory period of self-isolation or treatment.
Conduct a workplace risk assessment
Now that you are confident that your returning employees are free from the risk of COVID-19, you can proceed to carry out a workplace risk assessment. You can appoint leaders to carry out these assessments and ensure that safety measures are being followed once you resume normal operations. It would be best if you have a complete and thorough assessment of your workplace before you begin operations. The COVID-19 risk assessment should consider, among others, points like:
- Work location
- Work activities
- Workplace occupancy
- Adherence to government regulations.
The risk assessment is carried out to ensure that the workplace is safe and at minimal risk of future contamination (COVID-19 transmission).
For instance, along with the person-to-person transmission, there is also a high risk of transmission through shared surfaces such as door handles, telephones, and sanitation equipment, among others at the workplace. Therefore, all these factors should also be considered during the risk assessment. As an additional measure, you should have the workplace cleaned and sanitised, before resuming work, if possible or needed.
Enforce total avoidance of personal contact
It is critical that the prescribed social distancing guidelines are always followed strictly. There should be a minimum distance of one metre between two individuals, as per the guidelines of the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Additionally, restrict the use of shared surfaces such as door handles, coffee machines and taps. If possible, have a single designated person to handle such objects. If infeasible, ensure that employees sanitise their hands properly before and after contact with shared surfaces. These small measures can add up and help in a big way to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Make personal protection equipment mandatory
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks should be made mandatory for employees within, as well as outside the work premises. Ask your employees to have a mask right from the moment they leave their homes. Ensure that they carry a hand sanitizer along with them during their commute and use it when required. Have them keep their masks on during the work hours (with reasonable exceptions). Additionally, ensure that when they leave the office premises, they take the same health and safety precautions.
If your workplace requires employees to interact with shared surfaces frequently, such as at a workshop or a warehouse, gloves can add an extra protective layer. Another safety measure is to have your employees equipped with hand sanitizers and ensure that they use it before and after coming in contact with a shared surface or other individuals. You can provide your employees with all the personal protective equipment yourself or have them purchase it. Whatever the case, PPE’s should be made mandatory.
Provide COVID-19 safety training to employees
Employers must provide COVID-19 safety tips to employees to not only improve their awareness but also bring about the necessary behavioural changes related to health and safety. This can help ensure their safety as well as their community and family members. COVID-19 safety training should include practices regarding workplace cleanliness, waste management, hand hygiene, and instructions on using PPE, among others. You can also opt for an external assessment and consultancy service through recognised health and safety organisations to carry out a risk assessment and provide consultancy services in addition to training your employees.
Getting back to our normal lives seems difficult but not impossible. By adopting the right control measures, organisations can minimize the spread of COVID-19 significantly. We just need to be vigilant and armed with the right information and safety practices in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The views expressed are personal