COVID-19 introduces regulatory and ethical challenges to companies and employees returning to work.
Stringent regulations and careful planning define the approaches of organisations and employees returning to the workplace in the pandemic. Employers have to prepare the work environment in line with existing regulations and must provide specific equipment to ensure safety and compliance.
According to Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, companies need to develop a workplace readiness document that offers relevant guidance, as well as a workplace readiness plan that includes risk assessments, risk profiles and the systems needed to resolve any challenges or issues.
“It’s important to assess the risk-readiness of a company and allocate risk levels to different areas,” he adds. “For example, healthcare is usually high-risk so more systems need to be put in place to ensure the safety of medical professionals and staff. Other workplaces are low-risk so they need only meet the basic legal requirements for workplace safety.”
According to existing regulations, employers must provide every employee with two cloth face masks. They may not allow employees to perform any duties or enter the premises if they’re not wearing the appropriate covering. Employers that don’t enforce these regulations are liable for a hefty fine, six months’ imprisonment or both.
“Three different areas within the business must be considered – engineering, administrative and safety,” says Myburgh. “Engineering controls cover the physical workspaces, including physical barriers and elements that need to be put in place. Administrative controls include contact tracing and screening when people come into the office. Safety controls focus on ensuring that people are aware of the rules, keeping social distances, and wearing the PPE provided.”
In addition to these very precise workplace planning parameters, it’s good to include easily accessible sanitation stations throughout the workplace. Put rules in place that address the different requirements between low-risk and high-risk areas. Not all parts of the business are created equal so it’s important to ensure that staff have clear guidelines that they can follow to ensure their wellbeing.
“These guidelines can include something as simple as only allowing one person in the kitchen at a time, to more in-depth rules that define workplace disinfection controls at the start or end of the day and banning the use of air-conditioners until the filters have been changed,” says Myburgh. “Put policies in place around discrimination as well. No company can allow abuse of employees who catch the disease.”
Provide screening forms, checklists, medical condition disclosure processes, and ensure that temperatures are checked every day. Then, if the worst happens, ensure that you have protocols in place that define sick leave or quarantine restrictions and provide reassurance to employees. Finally, appoint a COVID-19 manager or representative who is in charge of ensuring that this all happens seamlessly, communicating to employees and management any changes or challenges in the process.
“From risk to engineering to sanitation and safety – all these elements are mandatory in the provision of a safe and compliant workplace during the pandemic,” concludes Myburgh. “By creating a plan, giving someone responsibility for its delivery, and emphasising adherence at every turn, you are creating a safe space for your people where they can work productively and healthily.”
For more information, go to www.crs.co.za