The physical workplace as you know it is going to change as Trinidad and Tobago gets ready to eventually return to work amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Health has therefore advised that companies begin preparation now to implement guidelines aimed at controlling the spread of the virus, including the appointment of internal teams to create and manage policy, as it is predicted even when the pandemic abates, Covid-19 could be present for some time.
Speaking at yesterday’s virtual Covid-19 media briefing, director of Veterinary Public Health at the Ministry Dr Saed Rahaman said the integration of anti-Covid-19 measures and the adoption of those policies into office culture were of importance as the country prepares for the possibility of the reopening of business in the near future.
As anti-Covid-19 regulations implemented by Government are gradually relaxed, battling the pandemic will also come down to the willingness of individuals and groups to adopt measures including the continuation of physical distancing and the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE)—especially face masks, in social situations.
As such, employers should assume, from now, a pivotal role in ensuring healthy office culture.
“All employers should now develop and implement infection disease strategies geared towards Covid-19 by establishing committees within their companies which will undertake risk assessment and develop control strategies,” Rahaman said.
The changes ought not to be too drastic from what offices and wider society have had to adopt at this time, he said, but companies will be required to take a more “hands-on” approach.
Rahaman said guidelines will have to centre on a group of core principles focused on physical distancing; hygiene, including the frequent washing of hands; consistent sanitisation of the facilities, including surfaces; the use of PPE; and respiratory hygiene, which calls for the proper use of face masks.
Rahaman noted cloth masks, while more effective than the absence of masks, do not possess full filtration properties and droplets may be propelled through the fabric when a person coughs or sneezes. Their use must be supported by proper hygiene and physical distancing, which recommends that persons keep some six feet (1.8 metres)apart.
Employees must themselves be aware and should be familiar with the signs, symptoms and risk factors associated with Covid-19, Rahaman said, calling on employers not to take it for granted that their workers understand everything about the pandemic and virus.
He noted some workers may not be fluent in English, and employers should stage demonstrations of good practice, such as the washing of hands, cough etiquette and proper physical distancing, for the benefit of such persons.
Employers must also ensure workers who are sick stay at home or return home “immediately” if they become sick on the job.
Paradigm shift needed
Some changes in office may take getting used to but are necessary, Rahaman said, calling on employers to ensure compliance. New habits will include a need for staggering of the use of various office facilities and shared spaces, such as lunch rooms.
Employers must stagger employee use of these spaces during working hours, ensure persons remain six feet apart and, where possible, use barriers or dividers to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus pathogen through coughs and sneezes.
Where space permits, workstations may be moved further apart. The upkeep of hygiene regulations must be assisted by the adequate provision of soap, water and disposable towels in bathrooms, kitchens and recreational areas.
Rahaman said it must be ensured that these items are always available, underscoring the need for internal committees that ensure compliance and consistent availability of these items. This may involve the setting of a schedule to ensure frequent restocking, as well as the disposal of garbage.
Rahaman said hand sanitisers formulated with no less than 65 per cent alcohol should also be provided at workplaces.
The ministry is also encouraging the adoption of available technology to reduce numbers of persons in offices or lessen movement by opting for virtual meetings and discussions where possible.
Tasks and meetings may also be scheduled during hours when fewer persons are present in the facilities, Rahaman said, having said earlier that proper ventilation in buildings was also key.
Rahaman also warned against the indiscriminate use of detergents and other substances, saying all companies must keep “material safety data sheets”.
Some cleaning compounds when mixed emit hazardous gases due to the combining of certain chemicals, he noted. Recommending all persons in an office involved in cleaning “must use protective gloves and eye wear”, Rahaman maintained that soap and water remain the best agent for prevention of Covid-19.