Practical Health and Safety Guide for a Covid-19 Workplace Plan
Everyone has a role to play to stop the spread of Covid-19. But, in the final analysis, it is the work giver who is ultimately responsible for safeguarding the health and welfare of millions of people employed by South African industries.
Occupational Health and Safety specialist, MAKROSAFE, is constantly updating its database to help industries keep abreast with the changing demands of the Covid-19 pandemic. Here is a practical guide to Covid-19 health and safety measures in the workplace.
COVID-19 Signs and Symptoms
Covid-19 follows a tell-tale 14-day pattern illustrated with:
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Breathing difficulties
The coronavirus is airborne and spreads via droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Close contact in the workplace must be avoided and employers are urged to introduce a social distancing programme. Workers should keep at least two metres apart. Workers must also wear face masks that cover their nose and mouth.
Droplets can also land on work surfaces and will remain infectious for at least 72 hours. That is why workers should wear gloves and protective clothing, while a strict cleaning regime should take place in the working environment daily.
The coronavirus can also be transferred by human contacts, such as shaking hands. Employers must put a strict hygiene programme into place which involves handwashing stations equipped with soap, water, bottles of hand sanitizer and disposable paper towels.
Preparing for a Covid-19 Workplace
Develop a Workplace Plan that encompasses health and safety policies and procedures programme. The plan should incorporate measures to be taken if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace such as:
- How to keep operational with a reduced workforce due to illness or other lockdown restrictions. This should also include measures on how to operate if contractors and suppliers are restricted from the premises.
- Share all relevant information about the Workplace Plan with employees, emphasising key points like staying at home when experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
- Incorporate sick leave arrangements into the plan to dissuade workers from camouflaging symptoms if they are concerned about losing pay.
- Small and medium-sized businesses that do not have in-house occupational health support, must prepare ahead for emergencies by obtaining information from MAKROSAFE’s online occupational health and safety service. They can also consult with associations such as the Chambers of Commerce or relevant social services departments.
- Translating the urgency of hygiene precautions to curb the spread of the virus, employers should display posters that are easily understood by all language groups. These should depict pictures of hand washing, covering the nose and mouth with an arm or a tissue, avoiding shaking hands, cleaning hands with bottled sanitizers. Posters should be displayed at strategic points throughout the workplace.
- Pedal-operated waste bins should be lined with a plastic bag to avoid hand contamination when emptying the contents.
- Provide bottled alcohol-based hand sanitizers as well as handwashing stations with soap and running water.
- Undertake a thorough cleaning of the workplace before restarting operations. This should be followed by a daily cleaning regime of the working environment. All floor and worktop surfaces should be disinfected daily, as should all work equipment used and operated by employees.
Other Covid-19 Operating Guidelines
Promoting teleworking is highly recommended for those employees who can function effectively from home. A Working from Home policy will reduce the number of workers on the premises at any given time and so reduce the risk of virus contamination.
Work givers must ensure that employees wear face masks and observe a two-metre social distancing policy. The face masks should cover the face from the bridge of the nose to the chin. Paper masks should be disposed of after use and cloth masks should be washed in detergent at high heat.
Identify high-risk workers, such as people over 60 years of age or other suffering from a chronic illness such as diabetes and heart conditions, as well as pregnant women. Every endeavour should be made to allow these workers to operate from home
Task Force Committees
Employers should appoint task force committees to implement a Workplace Plan. This committee should be responsible for taking control when a worker or visitor to the premises is suspected of being infected with Covid-19. The committee can liaise with the occupational health and safety team, such as MAKROSAFE, to obtain advice and guidance based on the assessed risk. The task force can also play an important role in identifying people who have come into contact with the sick worker, or visitor, and organising screening and isolation where necessary.
If a case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in the workplace it will undoubtedly cause anxiety and stress among co-workers. A task force can play an important role in communicating with co-workers and directing them to reliable sources of information. At times like these, employers are urged to be supportive and as flexible as possible on work arrangements.
Leave of Absence
Employers should exercise discretion when a suspected Covid-19-infected worker is asked to self-isolate. Sick leave policies surrounding the pandemic should be flexible and consistent with Government guidelines. Workers should also be kept fully informed of the leave of absence policies.
Back to Work Prevention Kit
MAKROSAFE and Safety Wallet has developed an online Back to Work Prevention Kit which guides employers every step of the Covid-19 way. The kit arms employers with everything they need to know to comply with the OHS Act compliance rules and regulations. The kit contains:
- Covid-19 Policy
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Policy
- Testing / Screening of Employees for COVID-19 Policy
- Working from Home Policy
- Working from Home Risk Assessment
- Travelling to and from Work using Public Transport Risk Assessment
- Workplace Risk Assessment - Exposure to Infections Diseases
- Workplace Readiness after Lock
- Control measures Guidelines
- E-Learning (unlimited) - Managing Infectious Disease in the Workplace - COVID 19
- Induction Booklet
- Toolbox Talks
- Awareness Posters
- Daily Mandatory Checklist