COVID 19 Recommendations and Social Measures for workplace environments

COVID 19 Recommendations and Social Measures for workplace environments

March 2021

Analyzing the measures taken to control the coronavirus, it is easy to conclude that the world was not prepared for the new challenges of the 21st century. Countries with strong sanitary, epidemiological, and other emergency services failed to assess the risks of the epidemic and to organize the necessary preventive measures in a timely manner. The UN and other IOs once again showed their helplessness, failed to justify the countries' hopes for timely prevention of new challenges of the XXI century, and development of recommendations to protect the population and territories from them.

The countries failed to do the following in a timely manner:

  • Organize monitoring, assess risks, and make predictions about the possible onset of the epidemic,
  • Develop the sound recommendations to national leaders, needed to make operational decisions to protect populations and territories from epidemics,
  • Organize a clear management of the epidemic,
  • Establish the necessary property, equipment, and financial reserves,
  • Create a national and international database of manufacturers of personal protective equipment, medical equipment, and medicine,
  • Organize the procurement, supply, and distribution of personal protection equipment, medical equipment, and medicine necessary to protect the population and territories from the epidemic, etc.

In response to the spread of COVID-19, countries around the world have enacted a variety of anti-epidemic and social measures, including restrictions on the movement of people, partial or complete closures of educational institutions and businesses, mandatory quarantine of people coming from specific geographic areas, and restrictions on international passenger traffic.

As the epidemiological picture of the disease changed, countries began to adjust (i.e., relax or reintroduce) such measures. In order to maintain economic activity, some countries started to implement a gradual return to work as transmission declined. That has required countries to introduce measures to protect the public from COVID-19, including issuing appropriate government regulations and establishing new mechanisms to ensure that workers know and apply standard COVID-19 preventive measures, such as physical distancing, hand washing, respiratory etiquette, and heat control. It is essential that compliance with this measure is monitored by national epidemiological and emergency services.

On April 16, 2020, WHO published interim recommendations on the principles for adjusting measures to protect populations from COVID-19 and the necessary social precautions. Based on this document, many countries have already developed and implemented their own national requirements for those involved in perfecting regulations and standard operating procedures to prevent COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. Including employers, employees and their representatives, trade unions and business associations, local health, labor and employment authorities, and occupational safety and health professionals. Countries should also pay close attention to enterprises and organizations outside the health sector.

However, additional protective measures may be necessary for enterprises with specific working conditions. Each country should develop and implement specific recommendations for the protection of the public and the safety of particular categories of workers. Such as employees directly interacting with the public for such sectors of human activity as hotels, places of detention, educational institutions, catering enterprises, air and other transportation, water supply, sanitation and waste treatment, etc.

Workplace risk assessment

COVID-19 is mainly transmitted by airborne droplets or by contact with surfaces where the virus is present. The risk of infection in the workplace can occur during work activities, during business trips to areas of mass infection, and on the way to and from work. The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace depends on the possibility of close (less than 1 meter) or frequent contact with people potentially infected with COVID-19 or contact with surfaces or objects that contain the virus.

The following risk levels have now been established and defined by countries:

Low risk of infection - types of work and job duties that do not involve frequent and close contact with the public and other workers, visitors, customers, buyers or outside performers and do not require contact with persons with established or suspected COVID-19 infection. Workers in this category have minimal contact with the general public and other workers because of the nature of the functions performed.

Medium risk of infection - types of work and work duties that involve frequent and close contact with the general public, other workers, visitors, customers, buyers, or outside performers, but which do not require contact with persons with established or suspected COVID-19 infection.

High risk of infection - types of work and job duties that involve frequent and close contact with persons with established or suspected COVID-19 infection, as well as contact with objects and surfaces on which the virus may be present. This applies primarily to healthcare workers.

Workplace COVID-19 infection risk assessment should be regularly performed in every country and reviewed by employers and plant management. That should be done in consultation with health professionals, preferably with the support of occupational safety departments.

Prevention measures

Based on the results of the risk assessment, opportunities for preventive measures, and recommendations of national authorities on how to adjust public health and social measures to the spread of COVID19, decisions are made to close or reopen businesses and establishments, and to suspend or reduce production activities.

Based on countries' experiences with COVID-19, ICDSCA has formed universal COVID-19 prevention measures covering all categories of workplaces and workers, including health care workers, employers, managers, employees, outside contractors, customers and visitors.

These measures include:

  • Hand hygiene,
  • Respiratory Hygiene,
  • Physical distancing,
  • Reduced and supervised office travel,
  • Regularly sanitizing and disinfecting the premises,
  • Risk education, training, and outreach,
  • Providing assistance to people with COVID-19 and their contacts.

Special measures for workplaces and workers at medium risk

For workplaces and workers assessed to be at medium risk, the ICDSCA recommends that, in addition to the measures described above, the following measures be in place:

  • Increased decontamination and disinfection of permanently touched objects and surfaces, including walls, surfaces, and floors, in common areas, bathrooms, and locker rooms,
  • Issuing personal protective equipment - masks, changeable gowns, disposable gloves or durable disinfectable gloves - and training in their use. Providing face or eye protection (medical masks, face shields, or goggles) when performing decontamination procedures that generate splashes (e.g., when washing surfaces),
  • Increased ventilation, by natural ventilation or forced ventilation, preferably without air recirculation.

ICDSCA recommends special measures for high-risk workplaces and workers:

  • The possibility of suspending the activity in question,
  • Observing hygiene before and after contact with any person with an established or suspected COVID-19 infection, and before and after using PPE,
  • Use of medical masks, disposable gowns, gloves, and eye protection by employees performing work duties in areas where persons with suspected or established COVID-19 infection reside. Use protective equipment when in contact with a sick person and/or respiratory secretions, bodily fluids, and potentially infectious waste materials.
  • Training health care workers in infection prevention, infection control, and the use of personal protective equipment.
  • Introduction of quarantine.
  • Refusing to give hazardous assignments to workers with other medical conditions, pregnant women, and persons over 60 years of age.

Rights, duties, and responsibilities of employees and employers

According to ICDSCA experts, employers, employees, and their organizations should engage with health authorities in the prevention and control of COVID-19. In the interest of occupational health and safety and infection prevention and control, employers should, in consultation with employees and their representatives, adopt protective and preventive measures, particularly engineering and administrative measures, and provide employees with personal protective equipment and appropriate clothing. Such measures of work organization should not require any expense on the part of workers.

Employees must comply with established regulations on occupational health and safety and infection prevention and control, not expose others to factors that threaten their health and safety, participate in training on these matters organized by the employer, and immediately report to their direct supervisor all situations that could reasonably be considered to pose a direct and serious threat to their life or health. In many countries, exposure to COVID-19 and other infections as a result of contact occurring during the course of employment is considered an occupational disease.

Action Plan

Based on the results of the risk assessment and the epidemiological situation, ICDSCA recommends that organizations and institutions develop a COVID-19 prevention and response plan as part of the continuity of operations and protection of the public from COVID-19. The plan should include, among other things, measures to protect the health, safety and well-being of personnel in the event of resumption, suspension and change of work arrangements, as well as adjustments to working conditions.

Return to work should be carefully planned in advance based on analysis and proper monitoring of all possible health and safety risks. The adopted action plan and selected preventive measures should be reviewed and adjusted if local epidemiological trends change, employees, visitors, customers or purchasers do not comply.

Large-scale public health and social measures introduced by countries in response to the spread of COVID-19 may also increase other risks to workers' health, safety and well-being associated with alternative work practices, job insecurity, sudden loss of income, social isolation and fears of possible infection. Measures to prevent and counter COVID-19 should be implemented in conjunction with measures to address other safety and health hazards, such as ergonomic problems, high workloads and excessive work hours, remote work, psychosocial risks, toxicological and other risks.

Health and safety services should build their capacity to conduct risk assessment, infection prevention and control and medical surveillance, as well as to organize psychological and psychosocial care in relation to the COVID-19 epidemic. In developing and implementing COVID-19 prevention and control action plans, countries should pay attention to proper consultation with health-care workers, employers and their representatives and to communicating the measures taken to staff everywhere, using specific risk communication and team engagement mechanisms.

National and local authorities and health authorities should disseminate relevant information and facts, promote outreach activities and issue detailed guidance on COVID-19 prevention to other categories of workers, such as domestic workers, those employed in the informal economy, etc. For this purpose, many countries have established national centers to monitor, collect, analyze and disseminate recommendations to protect people and territories in epidemics, including COVID-19.

The most important element for combating COVID-19 is the provision of medical workers with protective equipment, equipping medical institutions with modern equipment and innovative technologies, as well as modern vaccines and medicines.

According to ICDSCA experts, the introduction and implementation of these recommendations, based on the experience of the international community in combating COVID-19, will ensure effective protection of medical staff and the population from COVID-19, as well as timely decisions to protect the population and territories from the new challenges of the 21st century.