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Posted On: 24 March 2020 07:33 pm
Updated On: 13 April 2020 06:25 am

Work in the time of coronavirus: How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the workplace [UPDATED]

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Because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Qatar government has urged people to avoid unnecessary travel outside of the country and has reminded everyone to stay at home as much as possible and to practice social distancing. As a result, travel restrictions were implemented as well as the closure of establishments and facilities across the country including but not limited to parks, gyms, cinemas, beaches, and retail stores inside shopping malls to name a few. Classes were also suspended and distance learning was introduced.

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Qatar --- Week 1 - 3 Update

Some employers have adjusted and advised their employees to work remotely from home. But not every company has the option to do this especially for those businesses that require physical presence like hospitals, supermarkets, restaurants, and construction.

Coronavirus transmission

According to the World Health Organization, "people can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick."

How to make your workplace a safe environment for your employees?

Ministry of Administrative Development Labor & Social Affairs guidelines

On April 5, 2020, the Ministry issued awareness instructions to employers regarding the measures that companies should take in workplaces and accommodations to protect workers from Coronavirus.

Information sharing and awareness-raising

  • Raise workers' awareness about the measures that are being adopted at the enterprise and the government level;
  • Highlights the importance to take temperatures regularly and monitor for respiratory symptoms;
  • Highlight the importance to observe good personal hygiene by reminding them to wash their hands regularly, cover the mouth with an elbow if coughing or sneezing and avoid touching their faces.
  • Work with worker representatives/welfare officers who can communicate in workers' languages. Encourage workers to share information and perspectives, ask questions, and verify information.

Increased cleaning and sanitation

  • Increase frequency of routine cleaning and sanitation of areas with high human contact in worksites, accommodation, bus, bathrooms, kitchens, canteens, etc (e.g. common spaces used for meetings, toilets, lifts, refuse bins, and handrails)
  • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before use.

Limitation of social gathering to the minimum essential

  • Reduce working hours to 6 hours until further notice.
  • Stagger entry and exit of workers from the workplace.
  • Restrict the use of common spaces (e.g. canteen and changing rooms) to a limited number of workers at the same time, in line with the MOPH guidelines.
  • Work as much as possible to reduce the population density in the workplace and accommodation by allocating 6 square meters per worker in the accommodations.
  • Prohibit all in-person meetings that are not essential and limiting internal movement, as much as feasible.
  • Suspend all training events.

Enhancing the role of the Occupational Safety and Health Officers and management to supervise workers and ensure that protective measures are applied, in particular:

  • Perform a risk assessment to protect workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
  • Work with public health authorities to develop a plan to identify suspected cases and contacts with COVID-19 in your workplace and manage them properly.
  • Consider impact on mental health (for example, anxiety about job and income security, about the risk of contracting COVID-19, and the situation of their family members in their home countries).
  • Provide psychological and social support to infected employees after recovery.
  • Exanimate workers' temperature before taking buses to move to the workplace and to return to the accommodation.
  • Isolate any worker with high temperature and report to the Ministry of Public Health hotline on the number 16000.
  • Take advantage of the clinics available in companies to carry out examination procedures and follow up the health status of workers. provide additional precautionary measures to workers most vulnerable to infection such as those with chronic diseases (diabetes, heart, and respiratory diseases).
  • Limit the number of workers and users of buses to a maximum of 50% of the number of chairs on the bus.
  • Ensure the use of masks and the availability of hand sanitizers in the workplace.
  • Ensure that there are no gatherings inside the workplace and that the safe distance between the workers is kept at all times while performing the work.
  • Do not forget about other Safety and Health risks in the workplace

Monitoring and penalties

Government Communications Office guidelines

According to the Government Communications Office, employers can support Qatar’s efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by providing a safe working environment and educating employees on the virus' risks and ways to prevent its transmission.

This includes the following:

  1. Raising awareness of the recommended measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by providing easily available educational materials in the languages spoken by employees.
  2. Cleaning and sterilizing work sites, housing, bathrooms, kitchens, buses, and other frequently used locations daily.
  3. Distributing masks, soap, hand sanitizers, tissues, and advising employees on proper handwashing.
  4. Training employees on how to apply preventive measures at work and home to decrease their susceptibility to the virus.
  5. Ensuring that workers are regularly screened and tested for the virus.

Ministry of Public Health guidelines

According to the workplace guidelines released by MoPH, "it’s of crucial importance that all organizations ensure the safety of their employees, avoid high-risk activities, develop business continuity plans and minimize the risk of spread on infection at the workplace by the following preventive measures."

These are some of the preventive measures included in the guidelines:

1. Cleaning and disinfection

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces regularly, especially frequently touched areas like tables, telephones, keyboards, door handles, walls, toilets, etc.
  • Encourage your employees to frequently clean commonly used surfaces.

READ: Guidance for environmental cleaning in non-healthcare facilities in relation to COVID-19

2. Hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and cough etiquette

  • Promote regular and thorough handwashing by employees, contractors, and customers.
  • Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace
  • Put sanitizing hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled.
  • Display posters promoting handwashing and good respiratory hygiene in the workplace.
  • Combine this with other communication measures such as offering guidance from occupational health and safety officers, briefings at meetings and information on the internet to promote handwashing.
  • Make sure that staff, contractors and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water.

3. Advise employees and contractors to avoid/postpone business trips to countries experiencing ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19.

4. Develop work from home policy: if COVID-19 starts spreading in the community, those employees with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) need to stay at home.

  • Keep communicating and promoting the message that people need to stay at home even if they have just mild symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Display posters with this message in your workplaces.
  • Combine this with other communication channels commonly used in your organization or business.
  • Occupational health services should develop campaign materials to promote this message.
  • Make clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.

Other things you can do as an employer

1. Monitor developments on a daily basis

    The situation is changing daily and you as an employer need to be updated regarding the coronavirus outbreak situation in the country. The government has warned against spreading and believing in rumors and false news so make sure to be updated through the official channels of the relevant authorities like the Ministry of Public Health and the Government Communications Office.

    You can also check the daily updates at iloveqatar.net/coronavirus

    2. Minimizing contact and promoting physical distancing

    Here are some ways that you can implement to minimize contact between your employees:

    • Suspend biometrics
    • Avoid shaking hands
    • Leave doors open where possible
    • Consider having non-essential employees work remotely
    • Have meetings online (Increase use of email and teleconference)
    • Implement a flexible working schedule/shifts for employees
    • Encourage physical distance within the workplace
    • Rearrange workplace so that employees are not sitting face to face and have a safe distance between each other
    • Reduce contact between employees
    • Reduce contact between employees and customers
    • Screen visitors
    • Limit the number of people who can use the elevator at the same time; provide signages so that people are not standing next to each other and not facing each other
    best practices implemented: distancing in elevators, providing signage for touchpoints as a reminder to clean & sanitize

    What is the safe distance? According to the WHO and the Ministry of Public Health, it is advisable to maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

    Why?
    When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.

    The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has issued a circular that starting March 23, 2020, all retail outlets are to apply a safe distancing of one-and-a-half meters among customers and clients, including those waiting in queues at the cashier and reception desks, by placing guiding signs on the ground.

    Food establishments

    Aside from the above and the usual food safety and hygiene guidelines, the Ministry of Public Health has also asked the person in charge of the food establishment to do the following:

    1. Educating food handlers of the risk of viruses and bacteria and methods to avoid and prevent contracting them.

    2. Providing preventive facilities such as hand washing section, W/C, disinfectants, and sanitizers.

    3. Following good hygiene practices such as wearing masks, gloves, and adhering to good personal hygiene practices.

    4. Reporting in the event of showing any prior symptoms on food handlers during or before starting the work shift.

    5. Conducting the internal audit: critical points in the industry should be reviewed and audited.

    The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has also included the precautionary measure of taking body temperature of employees and delivery personnel.

    What can you do as an employee to keep the workplace safe and protect yourself?

    1. Follow the guidelines above and the ones set by your employer.
    2. Practice proper hand and respiratory hygiene.
    3. Clean and disinfect your working areas.
    4. Prepare your own food and limit eating with your co-workers.
    5. Maintain a safe distance from your colleagues especially when they are sick or showing respiratory symptoms.

    It will be a challenge to conduct business with the added layer of these new guidelines to maintain workplace safety and to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. But if we do it together, we can overcome this outbreak. #QatarUnited #YourSafetyIsMySafety

    Sources: GCO, MoPH, WHO, ECDC