Health and safety must come first when considering restarting work during the COVID-19 outbreak, protecting workforces and communities and enhancing engagement and productivity.
For organisations, it’s about a systematic plan–do–check–act approach and forward-thinking employers have already been planning for safely restarting work, once allowed to cautiously do so.
Any organisations that haven’t already made plans, need to develop them and take preparatory action now – it’s not just about opening workplaces and expecting workers to return, it must be safe and healthy and create a ‘new normal’.
Employers need 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. Cross-functional teams should assess the risks for COVID-19 security and general health and safety and ensure action before workers return.
Organisations need to adhere to applicable national COVID-19 security policy and guidance, including for safe travel, and conduct inspection and assessment of all relevant areas, to ensure there has been no deterioration of health and safety standards during lockdown.
Employers need to take action to ensure safe people, workplaces, systems and equipment, such as:
- Assess COVID-19-related risks and protect all workers, including the vulnerable
- Ensure that only those workers who can’t work from home and who can return to work safely, do so
- Provide adequate training, consultation, communication and awareness, with a means for workers to raise concerns
- Support ergonomics and wellbeing for home workers
- Provide physical distancing (signage, distance marking, barriers, one-way systems, staggered start / finish / break times, reduced numbers, etc)
- Improve hygiene (washing facilities, hand sanitiser, regular surface cleaning, tissues and disposal services, etc)
- Improve ventilation arrangements
- Redesign processes to reduce risks, including, for example, retaining teleworking
- Review, update and communicate all risk assessments in the light of COVID-19 security requirements
- Offer ongoing mental health support and flexibility for work-life balance issues
- Ensure workers who are symptomatic know they shouldn’t be at work and anyone who develops symptoms is isolated and sent home
- Check fire safety, first aid, water and asbestos management arrangements
- Provide necessary personal protective equipment and safe-use guidance
- Support appropriate use of face-coverings for reducing spread to others, as a complementary measure, explaining its limitations
- Check heating, ventilation, lighting and hygiene arrangements
- Ensure safe recommissioning of plant and equipment and statutory inspections
Organisations need to stay updated, monitor performance and check that everything is working well, strengthening arrangements where needed
Five key messages for employers, OSH professionals and public policymakers:
- Assess and manage your COVID-19 risks and ensure safe work-resumption using a systematic approach, the hierarchy of control and excellent communications
- Show strong leadership, worker engagement, and use of good OSH advice and provide appropriate training, physical distancing, hygiene, ventilation and PPE, together with ongoing monitoring and mental health support
- Protect vulnerable groups and those at higher risk of serious illness, such as workers with underlying health problems
- Provide ongoing physical and mental health support, recognising that some effects may be long-lasting and consider the needs of all workers, including those on the frontline, those with health conditions, those working from home and those furloughed
- Extend your risk management into your supply chains, ensuring those who are self-employed or work in the informal economy are also supported to stay safe and healthy
- Promote the key role of health and safety professionals in helping governments, organisations and communities to manage COVID-19-related OSH risks and save lives and livelihoods
- Work collaboratively as part of multidisciplinary teams managing OSH within COVID-19 emergency and continuity plans and critical supply-chains during this pandemic and beyond
- Help ensure that all workplaces are centres of disease-prevention, authoritative information and awareness-raising, and safe and healthy work activity
- Facilitate the sharing of reliable COVID-19-related intelligence, collaboration between occupational and public health professionals and learning lessons for prevention
- Be positive influencers in shaping COVID-19 public policy, by sharing OSH experience, expertise and good practice on pandemic management worldwide
[Visit the IOSH COVID-19 resource hub at www.iosh.com/coronavirus.]
- Work for global coordination to ensure all workforces, particularly frontline workers and the vulnerable, are adequately protected from communicable diseases like COVID-19 at work
- Support enhanced OSH professional collaboration and multidisciplinary working to share lessons on disease prevention, containment, risk management and safe work-resumption
- Promote action to ensure better use of technology, testing and tracing and higher levels of pandemic alertness, with swifter triggering of global, national and corporate emergency plans
- Provide opportunities for regular and systematic OSH professional input to development, implementation and review of public-policy on pandemics
- Ensure support for OSH, occupational health and related professionals in emerging and developing economies that have yet to build sufficient OSH competence and capacity
[Visit the IOSH COVID-19 resource hub at www.iosh.com/coronavirus.]
- IOSH Coronavirus resource hub iosh.com/coronavirus
Some other resources:
- American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). Back to work safely, sector-orientated materials.
- Australian Government: Safe Work Australia – COVID-19: Information for workplaces.
- European Health and Safety Agency (EU-OSHA). COVID-19: Back to the workplace- Adapting workplaces and protecting workers guide.
- Hong-Kong Occupational Safety and Health Council: COVID-19 OSH Information Pack
- ILO Prevention and Mitigation of COVID-19 at Work action checklist.
- Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA). Prevention Measures for COVID-19.
- New Zealand Government: WorkSafe – Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) Endorsed Industry Guidance.
- South Africa Government: COVID-19 resources.
- UK Government – Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) and transport operations and safe travel
- UK HSE Talking with your workers about preventing coronavirus
- UK HSE Working safely during the coronavirus outbreak – a short guide
- US Government: Centers for Diseases and Control Prevention (CDC) Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019
- WHO Getting your workplace ready guidance and guide on adjusting public health and social measures in the context of COVID-19 with specific considerations for workplaces.
Richard Jones, 18 May 2020