A Toolkit for Employers on Preparing Workplaces against the Spread of COVID 19
By Egoh Aziz
COVID19’s unabated dead toll has profound impact in the workplace, and is a cause for concern across the globe. According to the US Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration , Coronavirus Disease2019 “is a respiratory disease caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV-2-virus).” The disease began in China and has extended to several nations across the globe comprising Italy, France, Germany, America, and Africa. COVID 19’s international impact has been so severe to the extent that the WHO has labeled it a pandemic. Confirmed figures from the John Hopkins University in the US as of 25 March 2020 shows that almost 424,202 people have now been confirmed with the coronavirus globally, of which 109,200 have recovered from it, while more than 18,934 have died . The pandemic has caused untold shutdowns affecting various facets of socio-economic interactions comprising international travel, and conventional workplace activities. This article aims to provide a brief manual for employers on preparing the workplace against the spread of COVID 19. The article begins by highlighting the degree to which a COVID 19 outbreak can alter workplace arrangements. It further describes how all employers can mitigate workers’ risks of being vulnerable to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoV2 (SARS-CoV-2), and concludes.
Ways through which the COVID 19 outbreak can impact workplaces
Employers must strategize now against COVID-19 to curb the effect of its plaguing conditions on businesses, employees, clients, and the public. Before proceeding on how COVID-19 affects the workplace setting, two important points are worthy of note. 1) This toolkit is intended to help ascertain risk levels in workplaces, and 2) to decide on any appropriate and applicable control mechanism. Under conditions linked with person-to-person spread, several places in Cameroon and other countries may experience the effect concurrently.  An outburst may prolong in the absence of a cure and will lead to experiences such as:
- Non-attendance or being absent from work. Non-attendance could stem as a result of workers’ victimization, or providing care to their family members who have been victimized, and also to children whose centers are shutdown. It can equally be that they are avoiding contamination, and as a result decides to stay away from the workplace.
- Alteration in commercial arrangements. Demands for items associated with infection prevention (e.g. masks, disinfectants) are certainly going to increase significantly. Meanwhile, the demand for other consumables may experience a decrease due to declining interest. Shopping hours or patterns may also change as some consumers would rather prefer off-peak hours as a result of the COVID19 outbreak. This is to avoid over-congestion and physical contact that is habitual during normal shopping hours. Though not very common in Cameroon and other African countries, some shoppers may prefer home delivery to reduce physical contact which is common in shopping malls.
- Intermittent transportation of goods and services. Business transactions that warrant the displacement of goods and services between partners may be suddenly stopped or interrupted with or without any prior notice. This is because goods or people may be coming from a geographical area that is severely affected by COVID-19.
Next, we identify some relevant steps to be taken by all employers to reduce workers’ risks of being contaminated by SARS-CoV-2.
Steps required by all employers to mitigate workers’ risks of being contaminated by SARS-CoV-2
The necessary steps required by employers are not to be conceived as an exhaustive blueprint or a one size fits all measure, but are rather to be understood as systematic ways that can mitigate the chances of the spread of SARS-Cov-2. Below, are some of the proposed measures for employers.
- Set up a mechanism for communicable infection readiness and reaction. In the absence of one, create a communicable infection readiness and reaction strategy to reinforce defensive actions against the pandemic. Remain focused on recommendations from the WHO, the Ministry of Public Health and other public health agencies and organizations at the national, regional and international levels, and ensure to integrate those proposals and tools into precise policies in the workplace. Some of the considerations may include:
- What are the main sources of the exposure of workers? Where and how are they most likely to get contaminated? Who are the most susceptible among our workers to be infected and to have a severe disease?
- Be ready to apply basic infection prevention measures. This can be done by encouraging good hygiene and contamination management actions such as regular washing of hands with disinfectants, the use of hand sanitizers and encouraging workers to stay at home if they are unhealthy.
- Employers should also promote respiratory etiquette, including coughing and sneezing at a considerable distance from one person to another while covering mouths. Provide workers, clients, and visitors with hand sanitizers, tissues, and trash cans. Ensure workers should stop using the phones of their colleagues, restrict workers from moving from one desk to another.
- Employers should ensure to put in place certain policies such as working from home and flexible work hours but making sure there is a monitoring system that tracks the delivery of the weekly task. This is simply to make sure that they increase the physical distance among employees, as well as lessen their physical interactions with clients.
- Maintain constant housekeeping exercise including daily cleaning and disinfecting of equipment and surfaces.
- Outline applicable rules and measures for rapid notification and quarantine of infected workers. This entails among others that employers should:
- Encourage quick identification and quarantine of potentially infectious individuals
- Inform and motivate workers for self-examination for signs and indications for COVID-19 if they are suspecting that any of their colleagues is infected
- Establish rules for workers to alert in case they notice some signs of the disease
- Communicate workplace flexibility and defensive practices. This can be achieved by:
- Persistently advising sick persons to stay at home
- Making sure that rules for infected workers are flexible and conform to public health regulation
- Communicate to your partners and clients about the importance for employees to work from home
- Avoid insisting on a note from a healthcare provider for workers suffering from severe respiratory illness to authenticate their illness or report to the workplace without properly investigating whether they are truly sick or not.
- Acknowledge that employees with infected family members may wish to care for them at home
- Note workers’ worries about salaries, leave, protection, wellbeing, and other related concerns that may pop up throughout a transmissible disease outbreak.
This article was intended to provide a concise toolkit for employers on preparing the workplace against the spread of COVID 19. It examined how the COVID19 outburst can impact workplaces and further provided some steps all employers can adopt to mitigate workers’ risks of being infected by SARS-CoV-2. The author acknowledges that this toolkit is not an all-encompassing blueprint, but includes some necessary steps to be taken by all employers to reduce the spread of the pandemic.
 This manual has been considerably adapted from the US Department of Labour’s Publication on Guidance in Preparing Workplaces for COVID19.
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