Wondering how to manage the process of going back to workplace?

There are practical tips published by OSHwiki.

OSHwiki has been developed by EU-OSHA, to enable the sharing of occupational safety and health (OSH) knowledge, information and best practices, in order to support government, industry and employee organisations in ensuring safety and health at the workplace.

1. Updating your risk assessment and take appropriate measures

Just as under normal working conditions, the identification and assessment of risks in both physical and psychosocial working environments is the starting point for managing occupational safety and health (OSH) under COVID-19 measures. Employers are obliged to revise their risk assessment when there is a change to the work process and to consider all risks, including those affecting mental health.

Once the risk assessment is updated, the next step is to make an action plan with appropriate measures. Below are some examples of COVID-19 related issues to consider when drawing up such an action plan.

2. Minimising exposure to COVID-19 at work

Carry out only essential work for the time being; it may be possible to postpone some work to when the risk is lower. If possible, deliver services remotely (phone or video) instead of in person. Ensure that only workers who are essential to the job are present at the workplace and minimise the presence of third parties.

If possible, ask vulnerable workers to work from home (older people and those with chronic conditions (including hypertension, lung or heart problems, diabetes, or who are undergoing cancer treatment or some other immunosuppression) and pregnant workers. Workers with close family members who are at high risk may also need to telework.

Place an impervious barrier between workers, especially if they are not able to keep a two-metre distance from each other. Barriers can be purpose-made or improvised using items such as plastic sheeting, partitions, mobile drawers, or storage units. Organise shifts to take account of cleaning and sanitation tasks.

Supply soap and water or appropriate hand sanitiser at convenient places and advise workers to wash their hands frequently. Clean your premises frequently, especially counters, door handles, tools and other surfaces that people touch often and provide good ventilation if possible.

Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to the workplace and in other areas where they will be seen.

3. Resuming work after a period of closure

If your workplace has been closed for a period for reasons related to COVID-19, make a plan for when work resumes that takes account of health and safety. You should consider updating your risk assessment as described above and refer to COVID-19 guidance for the workplace.

Contact your occupational health service and health and safety advisor if you have access to one and discuss your plan with them.

4. Coping with a high rate of absence

Depending on the infection rates in your local area and the protocols in effect, many of your workers may be absent because of COVID-19. If a worker is in isolation at home as a precaution, they may be able to continue their work remotely.

Line managers have an important role in monitoring the situation and ensuring that individual workers are not overburdened. Respect the rules and agreements on working hours and rest periods and allow the workers the right to disconnect when off work.

5. Managing workers working from home

As part of the physical distancing measures, workers are encouraged or obliged to work from home if the nature of their job allows it.

Here are also some additional guidelines regarding work from home:

  • Carry out a risk assessment involving workers who telework and their representatives.
  • Allow workers to take equipment that they use at work home on a temporary basis (if they cannot fetch it themselves, consider arranging its delivery). This could include items such as computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, chair, footrest, or lamp. Keep a record of who takes what items to avoid confusion when normal work resumes.
  • Provide teleworkers with guidance on setting up a workstation at home that applies good ergonomics, such as good posture and frequent movement, as far as possible.
  • Encourage workers to take regular breaks (around every 30 minutes) to stand up, move and stretch.
  • Give teleworkers support in the use of IT equipment and software. Tele and video conferencing tools may become essential for work, but may be problematic for workers not used to them.
  • Ensure that there is good communication at all levels that includes those working from home. This ranges from the strategic information provided by top-level management to line managers’ duties, without forgetting the importance of routine social interaction among colleagues. While the former can be addressed in scheduled online meetings, the latter can be encouraged through online chats or ‘virtual coffee’ meetings.
  • Consider having regular staff or team meetings held online or rotate which employees can be present at the workplace.

6. Flexiblity

Be aware that your employee may have a partner who is also teleworking or children who may need care as they are not at school, or who need to connect remotely to continue their schoolwork. Others may need to care for elderly or chronically ill people and those that are in confinement. In these circumstances, managers will need to be flexible in terms of working hours and productivity of their staff and will need to make the workers aware of their understanding and flexibility.