Covid-19 continues to spread rapidly around the world. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) urges businesses to protect workers and show their commitment to preventing the spread of this disease by following its ‘Covid-19: guidance for the workplace’.
The Covid-19 situation changes day by day. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control closely monitors this and regularly updates information.
But what can workplaces do in practice to help tackle this pandemic and protect employees? Knowledge and awareness are key — everyone must be well informed about how the virus spreads, the symptoms of infection and how to minimise exposure. Our guidance help organisations that are still operational to provide workers with the information they need and put measures in place to prevent infection.
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19 is a new strain of coronavirus, thought to have an incubation period of between 2 and 14 days. The main symptoms are coughing, breathing difficulties and fever. Older people and those with chronic health conditions (such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases) are more likely to suffer from severe symptoms.
Coronaviruses are spread by close person-to-person contact or by touching an infected surface and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth. Such viruses are thought to live on some surfaces for 72 hours, sometimes longer.
How can businesses help minimise the impact of Covid-19?
Employers have an important role to play in protecting workers, and also in preventing the spread of Covid-19 in the wider community. They should:
· Revise the workplace risk assessment to ensure that distancing and hygienic measures can be taken, without additional risk to workers
· Respect the hierarchy of control measures and prioritise technical and organisational over personal protection measures
· Provide adequate PPE where it is needed in addition to technical and organisational arrangements
· Encourage workers to wash hands frequently and thoroughly and provide hand washing facilities or hand disinfection liquids
· Ensure that frequently touched surfaces are cleaned regularly
· Provide disposable wipes, so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped before use
· Emphasise the importance of employees staying away from work if they develop symptoms, even if mild
· Enable home working and flexible working hours where feasible
· Follow public health authority advice if someone with suspected Covid-19 has been in the workplace or travelling to an affected area
It is also important that businesses mitigate the impact of Covid-19 by developing contingency and business continuity plans. Plans should address how the business will keep running if workers or suppliers become ill or are affected by travel restrictions. They should also cover sick leave arrangements and any other support available for workers. Consulting these plans with workers and communicating with all others connected with the business — highlighting key points and making sure that everyone knows how the plan relates to them — is essential.
Covid-19 is not the only risk
For some workers, exposure to infectious agents on a regular basis is the norm and, according to the 2015 European Working Conditions Survey, is on the rise, especially in healthcare and veterinary services, agriculture, sewage management and laboratories. Our recent review and five discussion papers explore the risks posed by biological agents in the workplace. We aim to raise awareness of exposure to these hazards at work and provide more information on the associated health problems, which include not only infectious diseases but also cancer and allergies.
Working together is key to combating Covid-19
The current Covid-19 pandemic is one of the biggest challenges that businesses — and indeed societies — have ever faced. Overcoming this challenge will be possible only if we work together to stop the spread of this disease — and guaranteeing safe and healthy working environments is vital to this.