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Coronavirus update: How to reopen workplaces? Here are WHO guidelines

Regular awareness campaign among workers is necessary. WHO says employers should emphasise on the effectiveness of adopting protective measures and counteract on rumours and misinformation

twitter-logoPB Jayakumar | May 11, 2020 | Updated 18:43 IST
Coronavirus update: How to reopen workplaces? Here are WHO guidelines
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World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday came out with considerations for public health and social measures in the workplaces, as many countries are beginning to gradually re-open workplaces to maintain economic activity.

WHO said universal measures for preventing the transmission of COVID-19 - that will apply to all workplaces and all people at the workplace, such as employers, managers, workers, contractors, customers and visitors - include hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, physical distancing, reducing and managing work-related travels, regular environmental cleaning and disinfection, risk communication, training and education, and management of people with COVID-19 or their contacts.

Classifying the risk category into low, medium and high, WHO said high exposure risk category includes jobs or tasks with high potential for close contact with people who are known or suspected of having COVID-19, as well as contact with objects and surfaces possibly contaminated with the virus. They include people in health facilities, enclosed vehicles without separation between the driver and the passenger, home care workers and those in contact with dead bodies etc.  

Risk assessment should be carried out for each specific work setting and each job or group of jobs. For each risk assessment, it is prudent to consider the environment (like elderly employees), the task, the threat, if any, and resources available, such as personal protective equipment. Essential public services, such as security and police, food retail, accommodation, public transport, deliveries, water and sanitation, and frontline workers may be at an increased risk of exposure to occupational hazards for health and safety. Employers and managers, in consultation with workers, should carry out and regularly update the risk assessment for work-related exposure to COVID-19, preferably with support of occupational health services.

Regular handwashing with soap and water or hand hygiene with alcohol-based hand-rub, setting up of hand hygiene stations, such as hand washing and hand rub dispensers, promoting respiratory etiquette by all people at the workplace like mandating medical face masks and paper tissues, policy on wearing a mask or a face covering, ban sick workers coming to work, policy for disposing masks etc are necessary.

Introducing measures to keep a distance of at least one metre between people and avoid direct physical contact with other persons, reduce density of people in the building (no more than one person per every 10 square metres), physical spacing at least one metre apart for work stations and common spaces, minimise the need for physical meetings, avoid crowding by staggering working hours to reduce congregation of employees at common spaces such as entrances or exits and implementing or enhancing shift or split-team arrangements, or teleworking are necessary.

Further, cancel or postpone non-essential travel to areas with community transmission, carrying hand sanitiser while travelling, health knowledge on places to go and people whom to meet, monitoring people returning from infected areas for 14 days and checking temperature twice a day.

Regular environmental cleaning and disinfection is necessary.  Cleaning, using soap or a neutral detergent, water, and mechanical action (brushing, scrubbing) removes dirt, debris, and other materials from surfaces. After the cleaning process is completed, disinfection is used to inactivate (kill) pathogens and other microorganisms on surfaces.  High-touch surfaces should be identified for priority disinfection (commonly used areas, door and window handles, light switches, kitchen and food preparation areas, bathroom surfaces, toilets and taps, touchscreen personal devices, personal computer keyboards, and work surfaces).  

So far as indoor workplaces are concerned, routine application of disinfectants to environmental surfaces via spraying or fogging is generally not recommended because it is ineffective at removing contaminants outside of direct spray zones and can cause eye, respiratory, and skin irritation and other toxic effects. Similarly, spraying of people with disinfectants (such as in a tunnel, cabinet, or chamber) is not recommended under any circumstances, said WHO.

Regular awareness campaign among workers is necessary. WHO says employers should emphasise on the effectiveness of adopting protective measures and counteract on rumours and misinformation. Special attention should be given to reaching out to and engaging vulnerable and marginalised groups of workers, such as those in the informal economy and migrant workers, domestic workers, subcontracted and self-employed workers, and those working under digital labour platforms, said the guidelines.

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