The World Health Organization have produced a guideline on what companies should do to get their workplace ready for COVID-19. The WHO has advised that employers should start doing these things now, even if COVID-19 has not arrived in the communities where they operate. They can already reduce working days lost due to illness and stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 if it arrives at one of your workplaces.
Here are some of the highlights of the guideline:
COVID-19 refers to the coronavirus which was first discovered in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei Province in China, in December 2019. The virus has gone on to affect over 80,000 people in more than 50 countries around the globe, causing over 2,000 deaths.
The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs, as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system.
Most persons infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and recover. However, some go on to experience more serious illness and may require hospital care.
Risk of serious illness rises with age: people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 40. People with weakened immune systems and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness.
COVID-19 means – COVI – corona, VI – virus, D – Disease, and 19 – for 2019 when the disease first occurred.
The name Covid-19 was announced on 11 February by the World Health Organization. The director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease. Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising.”
When someone who has COVID-19 coughs or exhales they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects – such as desks, tables or telephones. People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects – and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. If they are standing within one meter of a person with COVID-19 they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by them. In other words, COVID-19 spreads in a similar way to the flu.
Things employers should do:
- Surfaces (e.g. desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly
- Why? Because contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads
- Put sanitizing hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled
- Display posters promoting hand-washing – ask your local public health authority for these or look on www.WHO.int.
- Combine this with other communication measures such as offering guidance from occupational health and safety officers, briefings at meetings and information on the intranet to promote hand-washing
- Make sure that staff, contractors and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water
- Why? Because washing kills the virus on your hands and prevents the spread of COVID-19
- Display posters promoting respiratory hygiene. Combine this with other communication measures such as offering guidance from occupational health and safety officers, briefing at meetings and information on the intranet etc.
- Ensure that face masks (ordinary surgical face masks rather than N95 face masks) and / or paper tissues are available at your workplaces, for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing of them
- Why? Because good respiratory hygiene prevents the spread of COVID-19
- Anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home. They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medications, such as paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask symptoms of infection
- Keep communicating and promoting the message that people need to stay at home even if they have just mild symptoms of COVID-19.
- Display posters with this message in your workplaces. Combine this with other communication channels commonly used in your organization or business.
- Your occupational health services, local public health authority or other partners may have developed campaign materials to promote this message
- Make clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.
Things to consider when you and your employees travel
- Make sure your organization and its employees have the latest information on areas where COVID-19 is spreading. You can find this at WHO and CDC websites
- Based on the latest information, your organization should assess the benefits and risks related to upcoming travel plans.
- Avoid sending employees who may be at higher risk of serious illness (e.g., older employees and those with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease) to areas where COVID-19 is spreading.
- Make sure all persons travelling to locations reporting COVID-19 are briefed by a qualified professional (e.g., staff health services, health care provider or local public health partner)
- Consider issuing employees who are about to travel with small bottles (under 100 ml) of alcohol-based hand rub. This can facilitate regular hand-washing.
- Encourage employees to wash their hands regularly and stay at least one meter away from people who are coughing or sneezing
- Ensure employees know what to do and who to contact if they feel ill while travelling.
- Ensure that your employees comply with instructions from local authorities where they are traveling. If, for example, they are told by local authorities not to go somewhere they should comply with this. Your employees should comply with any local restrictions on travel, movement or large gatherings.
- Employees who have returned from an area where COVID-19 is spreading should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and take their temperature twice a day.
- If they develop even a mild cough or low-grade fever (i.e., a temperature of 37.3 C or more) they should stay at home and self-isolate. This means avoiding close contact (one meter or nearer) with other people, including family members. They should also telephone their healthcare provider or the local public health department, giving them details of their recent travel and symptoms.
Getting your business ready in case COVID-19 arrives in your community
- The plan should cover putting the ill person in a room or area where they are isolated from others in the workplace, limiting the number of people who have contact with the sick person and contact the local health authorities (Pejabat Kesihatan Daerah).
- Consider how to identify persons who may be at risk, and support them, without inviting stigma and discrimination into your workplace. This could include persons who have recently travelled to an area reporting cases, or other personnel who have conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness (e.g., diabetes, heart and lung disease, older age).
- Tell your local public health (Pejabat Kesihatan Daerah) authority you are developing the plan and seek their input.
- If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community the health authorities may advise people to avoid public transport and crowded places.
- Teleworking will help your business keep operating while your employees stay safe.
- The plan will help prepare your organization for the possibility of an outbreak of COVID-19 in its workplaces or community. It may also be valid for other health emergencies.
- The plan should address how to keep your business running even if a significant number of employees, contractors and suppliers cannot come to your place of business – either due to local restrictions on travel or because they are ill.
- Communicate to your employees and contractors about the plan and make sure they are aware of what they need to do – or not do – under the plan. Emphasize key points such as the importance of staying away from work even if they have only mild symptoms or have had to take simple medications (e.g., paracetamol, ibuprofen) which may mask the symptoms.
- Be sure your plan addresses the mental health and social consequences of a case of COVID-19 in the workplace or in the community and offer information and support.
- For small and medium-sized businesses without in-house staff health and welfare support, develop partnerships and plans with your local health and social service providers in advance of any emergency.
- Your local or national public health authority may be able to offer support and guidance in developing your plan.
How to stay informed:
Find the latest information from WHO on where COVID-19 is spreading:
Advice and guidance from WHO on COVID-19
The information above is sourced from WHO website