As countries gradually ease Covid-19 restrictions as part of economic recovery measures, organisations are now faced with the challenge of ensuring that workplaces are safe.
The pandemic has transformed the workplace with most people now working remotely to curb the spread of the virus. Working from home was unimaginable only a few months ago but is now the new normal. Unfortunately, many people have lost their jobs as a result of businesses downsizing or shutting down.
Given that Covid-19 is likely to be around for some time, there is a need for a phased and safe return to work.
With the virus spreading rapidly, people now tend to feel safest at home where they perceive the risk of infection to be lowest. Employees, therefore, require assurance of their safety and health when they return to their usual places of work.
Protective and preventive measures at the workplace will ensure employees, their families and society at large remain safe. For this reason, companies need to review their occupational safety and health (OSH) policies to keep up with the constantly evolving Covid-19 health risks.
In June, the Ministry of Labour issued the Occupational Safety and Health Post-Covid-19 Return to Work Advisory. Among the required measures to prevent the spread of the disease in workplaces is ensuring that everyone strictly adheres to health protocols.
For example, employees not wearing face masks should not be allowed access to the work premises.
Workers will be required to undergo medical examination. Notably, employees who don’t have to return to the office full-time should be allowed to work from home.
Also, the International Labor Organisation (ILO) has issued the safe and healthy return-to-work guidelines. According to ILO, sustainable reactivation of economies demands that employees feel safe and assured that they will not face unnecessary risks at work. Employers are required to provide protective equipment where necessary at no cost to employees.
Employers are also mandated to consult workers and their representatives in formulating OSH policies on Covid-19 prevention.
Covid-19 risks at the workplace must also be constantly evaluated and operations suspended or down-scaled if the safety and health of workers is threatened.
Many countries have also adopted their own return-to-work safety and health protocols. The European Union has developed some of the most comprehensive rules in this regard.
Covid-19 has evoked fear and uncertainty with negative psychosocial impact on individuals and families. So, apart from enforcing prevention measures at the workplace, employers should also manage work-related psychosocial risks during the Covid-19 pandemic. This applies not only to health workers but also employees who are likely to be more exposed to the risk of contracting the virus including those in transport and handling deliveries.
Self-care and adherence to preventive advisories by the authorities is paramount in keeping work places safe for everyone. Employers can only do so much and employees therefore have a personal responsibility to protect themselves and others.
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