We’re now living and working alongside the Covid-19 virus as it spreads, subsides and then ‘spikes’ again in unexpected ways among populations, communities and workforces.
This virus exploits weaknesses in controls and safeguards as well as human behaviours at home and at work.
The pandemic is at different stages of development in different territories around the world. Now, in places where infection rates and the reproduction rate – or ‘R-number – had declined in recent months, latest data show Covid-19 case are resurgent again.
Affected cities and regions have been extending or introducing restrictions on travel, movement, sizes of social gathering and what venues and businesses can operate. These are known in some places as ‘local lockdowns’ and – in common with enhanced quarantine measures for international travel – they can be imposed suddenly taking on various forms.
When risks subside, these restrictions are relaxed – but they can be imposed again without much warning when case numbers begin to rise once more.
What’s essential is to remain vigilant, agile and disciplined in how you plan for and implement your own workplace controls.
Safe people, workplaces, equipment and systems
Responsible organisations are ensuring their people stay safe and healthy, whether they’re working from home or now back and operating in work buildings. IOSH’s Returning Safely guidance has already established main areas of focus for businesses and other organisations to help them adapt ‘post-lockdown’.
We recommend a systematic plan–do–check–act approach. Employers need to deploy a planned, risk-controlled approach – based on strong leadership, worker involvement and sound health and safety advice – to ensure safe people, workplace, systems and equipment.
These fundamentals help employers ensure they can continue to operate well while navigating our very different, less predictable world of work – from making sure necessary restrictions are in place, work well and are enforced, to looking after the communication needs and mental wellbeing of all workers.
In principle, there should be no change in relation to risk assessments and control measures. Our four Returning Safely areas are safe people, safe workplaces, safe equipment and safe systems, alongside sections on Legal obligations and Risk assessments.
Safe people covers three key topic areas: Communication, Health promotion for workers and Control of workloads, tasks and deadlines. Organisations may need to reassess and re-evaluate what they have in place in these areas. Is what they’re doing effective?
Here are some essential points:
- Communicate organisational plans
- Keep in regular contact with remote workers
- Set boundaries to working hours
- Encourage workers to discuss wellbeing and mental ill-health concerns
- Provide morale-boosting messages and information to workers
Health promotion for workers
- Offer wellbeing information
- Encourage healthy sleeping
- Stand and stretch regularly
- Eat nutritious foods
- Try breathing exercises
- Promote good standards of hygiene
Control workloads, tasks and deadlines
- Provide varied tasks where possible
- Allow flexibility
We need safe workplaces to ensure safe people. Good risk assessments will allow organisations to implement control measures to best suit their own business needs.
With elimination and substitution impossible until a proper vaccine is found and made commonly available, engineering controls offer your first line of defence, followed by administrative controls and finally PPE/RPE.
Here is a reminder of some of the controls organisations should look to implement:
Reduce physical contact between workers and between workers and customers
- Social / physical distancing rules
- Distancing by time
- Distancing by space
- Controlling numbers
- Changing processes to reduce contact
Keep your work environment clean
- Reinforce cleaning and hygiene messages
- Provide sanitation stations
- Introduce extra cleaning
- Update cleaning schedules and rotas
- Extra focus on touchpoints (door handles, lift buttons, vending machines)
Signage and information
- Provide distancing markings on the floor
- One-way flow markings at entry and exit points
- Provide appropriate Covid-19 signage throughout the workplace
- Use a risk assessment to provide identified roles/ workers with adequate PPE/RPE
- Use disposable PPE/RPE where possible
- Workers requiring RPE may need face fit tests
Safe equipment is vital. Don’t overlook it. With pandemic resurgences not only possible but likely, checks on work equipment may be due. It is important this is still managed effectively. While the pandemic may force more periods of isolation and organisations bringing workers in and out of work, checks must still be made to ensure when workers return back to work (anytime), the equipment they are using remains safe.
Listed below are examples of checks (in house and third party) that may need to be made by organisations:
- Legionella/ water systems
- Lifting equipment
- Pressure systems
- Local exhaust ventilation
- Racking inspections
- Workplace transport
- Fire inspections
- Routine machinery checks
Safe systems need to be amended and enforced to ensure your organisation can best co-ordinate with and adapt to ongoing changes and any potential resurgences and/or local lockdowns.
The five key elements of a good management system listed below, if implemented well, will help organisations plan and structure any additions or changes needed to their systems:
- Policy and strategy
- Risk management and controls
- Monitoring and measuring
Further information to consider
Throughout this pandemic, your planning and risk assessments should include ‘horizon scanning’ to anticipate factors that may affect how your situation may change.
We recommend you review IOSH’s Returning safely post Covid-19 policy position which sets out priorities and approaches.
Scientists continue to learn more about this virus and how it is likely to manifest over the coming months, so information will develop. Seek out and refer to credible sources of authoritative information such as those listed here.
Managing your work safely through local lockdown was the subject of a recent IOSH Covid-19 webinar. You can watch the recording here.
Panellists from different sectors, including construction and consultancy, as well as a regional business network whose area includes places affected by local lockdowns, shared their experiences and assessments.
Further information on all these topics can be found by visiting the Returning Safely section of the IOSH website. This includes three free e-learning modules to help support employees and managers with safety and health risks during Covid-19. They span Returning safely after Covid-19 lockdown, Managing temporary workers and PPE and RPE awareness.
The IOSH health and safety helpline also provides a friendly team of experts who can answer your queries.
We’re keen to hear what works for you. How are you adapting to changing situations affecting your organisation and dynamically risk-assessing, planning and implementing good systems and processes? Please email email@example.com to let us know.