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Things to Consider Before Employees Report Back to the Office

09 June 2021

With most states rolling their vaccinations, a lot of companies are asking their employees to report to their respective offices. While this may seem like a brilliant idea, office management must create an action plan that puts their workers’ safety first.

In an ideal world, the vaccines would provide full immunity to any COVID-19 variant. But as the virus is a year of battles for us with a vaccine in its early development, we must still practice utmost caution as we report to our offices.

Don’t know where to start? Here are the things that any company management needs to put into consideration as they gear up for onsite work.

Can employees transmit the virus at the workplace?

COVID-19 is transmitted mostly through droplets in the air or exposure to infected surfaces. Transmission can happen at work, on the way to and from work, while traveling to work, during employee travels to an area with local spread, and on the way home.

Is there a probability of contracting Covid while in the office?

In the workplace, the probability of contracting COVID-19 is dependent on the possibility of being within one meter of others, having frequent physical interaction with individuals who may be sick and asymptomatic, and coming into direct contact with infected people and things.

Is there a way to evaluate the risk for exposure to Covid while at the office and create an action plan based on it?

Management should review immediate risk assessments with the assistance of a work health & safety consultant to assess the probability of exposure risk and implement preventive actions. This should be done for each work environment and job.

Low exposure workers

This set of workers has little workplace contact with the general public or other coworkers. Remote workers (i.e., those who work from home), staff members who do not have frequent face-to-face interaction with others, and workers who provide teleservices are all examples of such professions with little to no risk at all to the virus.

Moderate exposure employees

Jobs or duties that need regular, close contact with members of the community or others. This level of risk may relate to employees who have regular and close contact with the public in populated work environments (e.g., grocery stores, bus stations, public transportation, and other occupations where physical separation of at least one meter may be hard to monitor), or to tasks that require frequent and close contact between coworkers. This could also involve frequent interaction with individuals returning from locations where community transmission is prevalent. Frontline employees in retail, home deliveries, housing, construction, law enforcement and security, public transportation, and water and sanitation are examples of such employment.

High exposure employees

Activities or tasks that require close contact with persons who are more susceptible to have COVID-19, along with interaction involving potentially contaminated objects and surfaces. Examples also include transporting individuals suspected of having to have COVID-19 without isolating the driver and the occupant, providing domestic services or home care to individuals known or suspected to have COVID-19, and maintaining contact with the dearly departed who were strongly suspected to have COVID-19 at the time of their death. Domestic employees, social care workers, private transportation and home delivery providers, and home maintenance technicians (plumbers, electricians) who are required to offer services at home with a suspected or recorded COVID-19 case may all fall under this category.

Who conducts the office risk assessment?

Managers and supervisors should conduct and routinely modify and review risk assessments for COVID-19 exposure at work, preferably with the assistance of workplace healthcare services.

What must be the utmost considerations of a workplace risk assessment?

Consider the surroundings, the task, the threat, available resources, such as protective gear, and the practicality of preventive measures while conducting risk assessments. Furthermore, the risk evaluation should include collective lodging supplied by the firm for employees, such as dorms. Essential public services such as security personnel, food retail, housing, public transportation, delivery, and water and sanitation, as well as other frontline workers, may face an elevated risk of occupational health and safety concerns. Individuals who may be at a higher risk of acquiring severe COVID-19 sickness due to age or preexisting medical issues should have their risk checked.

The decision to close or resume operations, or to stop or downscale operational activities, should be based on a risk assessment, the capability to implement protective measures, and the ability to comply, as well as national authorities' recommendations.

Policies to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 that apply to all workplaces and all employees include frequent hand washing or disinfection with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap, pulmonary hygiene such as covering mouths when coughing or sneezing, a social distancing of at least one meter or more according to national recommendations, wearing of masks in the absence of physical separation, and regular cleaning. Strict guidelines and communications, as well as training and education for workers and management, are critical for increasing understanding of COVID-19. Management of employees with COVID-19 or their connections is also crucial, for example, asking employees who become ill or develop symptoms to stay at home, self-isolate, and call a medical expert or the regional COVID-19 information line for assistance on testing and referral.

Employers, staff, and their institutions should interact with public health officials to mitigate and manage COVID-19 transmission. Collaboration between management and employers and unions is critical for workplace preventative efforts to be efficient. International labor rules governing workers' and employers' rights and obligations in workplace health and safety should be formally agreed upon.

Employers, in conjunction with employees and their representatives, should design and execute steps to prevent and mitigate COVID-19 in the environment through administrative and engineering procedures, as well as provide appropriate protective clothing and equipment. Such procedures should not entail any cost to the employees.

On the recommendation of occupational health services, special steps are required to protect workers with an increased danger of developing a deadly illness, such as those aged 60 and over or with preexisting medical conditions. Workers in private employment and on digital labor platforms, as well as those in small businesses, domestic and migratory workers, should not be excluded from protections for their workplace health and safety, and livelihood.

No social stigma or prejudice shall exist in the workforce for any justification, including access to data and security from COVID-19, workplace health services, and mental well-being, and psycho-social assistance. If COVID-19 is contracted as a result of occupational exposure, it may be classified as an occupational illness and, if so, should be reported and reimbursed in accordance with international labor standards and national employment injury benefit programs.

While it may seem to be a lot of work, taking these additional steps will assure that the employees and everyone in the vicinity are taken care of.