Tips for employers to enhance hygiene and health of employees in light of Covid-19

As South Africa eases lockdown regulations some businesses have been allowed to operate but under strict hygiene conditions, while others are preparing and strategising on reopening slowly.

While employers are under pressure to adhere to strict Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations in the workplace Emma Corder, Managing Director of industrial cleaning equipment manufacturer Industroclean, offers some advice on how to make sure the workplace is safe for employees.

“Daily cleaning methods and regimes are going to be a priority and implementing cleaning initiatives can reduce the chance of infection in the workplace,” she says.

All workplaces and employers are required to adhere to the COVID-19 Direction on Health and Safety in the Workplace issued by Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi in terms of Regulation 10(8) of the National Disaster Regulations. The purpose of the directives is to ensure that the measures taken by employers under Occupational Health and Safety are consistent with the overall national strategies and policies to minimise the spread of COVID-19.

“The OHSA requires employers to review and update risk assessments on a regular basis but Covid-19 poses new hazards and the basic measures to eliminate and minimise the risks specific to the transmission of the disease is highlighted in the recently issued Directive,” Corder says.

All employers are required to undertake a risk assessment in order to give effect to the minimum measures required by this Directive.

The following two phases need to be implemented:

Pre-return to office:

  • The first obligation is to make sure that deep cleaning of all workplaces must be done before staff can return to work. Although there is still uncertainty over how long the virus can survive outside of a host, for organisations, the cleaning of work chairs, carpets and blinds, floors and meeting rooms as well as shared equipment such as photocopy machines should be focus areas.
  • Employees’ workstations will need to be re-arranged to ensure minimal contact between staff. As far as possible, there should be a minimum of one and a half metres between workers’ work areas. 

Returning back to work:

  • For the reasons underlying the Department of Health’s requirement, every employer must provide each of its employees, free of charge, with a minimum of two cloth masks which staff are required to wear at work at all times as well as during their commute to and from work. Based on a risk assessment of the workplace, where necessary employees should also be supplied with appropriate PPE.
  • Staff reporting for work must be screened to ascertain whether they have any of the observable symptoms associated with COVID-19.
  • Every morning, throughout the day and before changing of shifts, all work surfaces and shared equipment must first be cleaned by washing surfaces with soap and water and then disinfected with sanitisers and disinfectants, including door handles, screening areas, elevator buttons and escalator handrails as well as water cooler buttons and other surfaces in heavily trafficked areas.
  • Ensure the availability of adequate facilities for washing hands with soap and clean water and provide paper towels to dry hands after washing – the use of fabric towelling is prohibited.
  • Introduce additional hand sanitising stations especially at reception and near high contact surfaces. Soap dispensers and the actual hand sanitising units should also be cleaned daily.
  • Staff should regularly clean their laptops and cell phones as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Employees must ensure that their desks are regularly cleaned and avoid eating at their desks and leaving food packaging at their workstations .

Kitchen and restrooms:

  • Provide foot-pedal refuse bins, soap and alcohol-based hand sanitisers, paper towels, disinfectants and the display of handwashing instruction signs in restrooms and staff kitchens
  • Discourage frequent use of the staff kitchen and other common areas to avoid the concentration of staff in one area by suggesting staggered break-times.
  • Encourage staff to bring prepared lunches to cut down on use of the staff kitchen which should be limited to one person at a time.
  • Provide staff with information that raises awareness of the dangers of the virus, the manner of its transmission, measures to prevent transmission such as personal hygiene, social distancing, the use of masks, cough etiquette and where to go for screening or testing if presenting with the symptoms. These notices could be placed in kitchens and restrooms.
  • Most importantly you will need to disinfect all cleaning equipment after use or introduce a colour coding system for all cleaning products to prevent cross contamination between surfaces and different areas. For example cloths and buckets used in general areas are blue, white for kitchens and red for toilets.

Corder concludes, “regular maintenance and cleaning of these areas are crucial if organisations hope to keep the work environment free of infections. But the answer lies not only in these large-scale actions that need to be performed regularly. Embedding a hygiene and cleanliness culture within organisations is just as important if the workplace is to remain germ-free.”

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