As of 1 May, many business owners and managers returned to their place of work. As a healthcare company providing an essential service, Universal Corporate Wellness has been closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak since early this year. Its director Ina van der Watt shares everything you need to know about health and safety as an employer and employee.
Protecting employees’ health and safety in the workplace
Employers should provide sufficient sanitisers for hand sanitising at entrances, exits, boardrooms and bathrooms, and staff should be screened when they arrive at work, including temperature and symptom checks. “Social distancing should be implemented at the workplace, where staff members can establish protocols, such as one person at a time in the kitchen, and not more than three in a large boardroom,” says Ina.
More ways to protect employees…
1/ Employers should provide cloth masks (two per employee should be enough to allow for washing every day).
2/ Employers should be able to communicate liberally — regularly remind staff members of hand-washing and other safety protocols on an ongoing basis. “Consider using posters, letters to employees and/or short SMSs to emphasise important aspects and reinforce your messages,” says Ina.
3/ Arrange for as many employees to continue working from home as possible.
4/ Employers should space out employees in the work environment – keep them at least two meters apart from one another.
5/ Leave all interleading doors, kitchen doors, main bathroom doors, etc. open, so that touching is avoided as far as possible.
6/ Consider removing cutlery from the kitchens and replace with paper cups and spoons that can be discarded once used.
7/ Consider removing tables and chairs in the canteen so people don’t sit at the same tables where others sat a minute ago.
8/ Arrange for regular cleaning of your offices and facilities by your cleaning provider – make sure they have all of the necessary cleaning and sanitising processes in place.
9/ All doorknobs, workspaces and frequently touched objects should be repeatedly cleaned throughout the day with an appropriate cleaning product.
Organisations offering mental health services
Employees may be experiencing a range of different emotions and could be under additional psychological pressure. “A counselling service can be of assistance to stressed employees. Universal Corporate Wellness provides a telephonic counselling service, with referrals for face-to-face counselling if necessary, to all its corporate clients,” adds Van der Watt.
Look out for these warning signs: “When employees are experiencing changes in things like their sleeping and eating patterns, and are having difficulties concentrating, and using more tobacco and/or alcohol, it may well be a sign of increased stress levels,” says Van der Watt.
If employees are suddenly required to work from home with no supervisor or manager to guide them, they may find it difficult to adjust. “It’s imperative for management, line managers and supervisors to manage expectations regularly by communicating on an ongoing basis with these staff members to ensure that they know what is expected of them and to guide them about daily output,” says Van der Watt.
How can companies who haven’t gone back to an office space prepare for a ‘new’ way of working?
It’s important to make sure that your company puts in place the necessary HR policies, guidelines and processes. “These processes should detail what should be done in the event of someone reporting to work with a high temperature or an employee calling in to report that they have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person. All of this must be carefully thought through and detailed in the procedure document,” says Van der Watt. This must then all be effectively communicated to all employees through appropriate communications channels and reinforced on an ongoing basis.
Other health and safety aspects the employer should consider…
1/ The ordering of sufficient thermometers, masks and sanitisers.
2/ Security staff, cleaners and receptionists should be trained in the basics of prevention.
3/ Communicate with the cleaning company regarding cleaning schedules etc. Arrange with them to be on standby when a positive case has been identified, so they can deep-clean the necessary spaces as soon as possible and business disruption is limited.
4/ Communicate with staff regarding transportation requirements. Many staff members may not know the regulations, so clarify these points.