Two people at work social distancing

Back To Work After The Lockdown? Here’s How To Avoid Coronavirus

Lockdown restrictions are easing and people are going back to work, but the coronavirus is still spreading. To prevent unnecessary infections, it pays to be vigilant in the workplace. Protect your staff and family members with the following strategy implementations.

Items to Reduce Transmission

Employers must have a coronavirus risk assessment in place, one that fits into usual workplace risk protocols. In addition to helping employees self-isolate (and providing them support in isolation), all employees should introduce the following items to help limit the spread and risk of infection at work. 

Below are some of the simplest (and most effective) strategies to making work as safe as possible.

Hand Sanitiser

Hand sanitisers are a quick and convenient way to rid the hands of germs. The most effective hand sanitisers are at least 60 per cent alcohol

It is a good idea to assign every employee with their own bottle, for quick application again and again. Larger bottles are useful for heavy use, such as near drinking fountains or printers, and in washrooms. 

Ideally, you should use hand sanitizer after touching anything ‘different’ and even every 30 minutes or so, just to be on the safe side. 

Hand sanitiser is more a sterilising agent than a cleaner. If your hands are mucky, sanitiser will kill the germs — but will not clean the hands. Wash off dirt with soap and water. Washing hands six to 10 times a day has been associated with a 36 per cent reduction in the risk of becoming infected.

Face Masks

As up to 80 per cent of all cases may be very mild or asymptomatic, it is important to get into the habit of wearing a face mask. Even if you don’t feel unwell. Because they seem to be perfectly healthy, a lot of people may be spreading the virus unknowingly. Face coverings help to contain and limit the spread of viral particles and limit further infections.

Pretty much any face covering is better than nothing. Including a scarf or even sticking your nose under a tee shirt. But obviously most face coverings like this are impractical for any situation longer than a moment. 

The most efficient way is to wear face masks specifically designed to isolate small particles such as dust and water that the virus can latch on to. Face masks also sit easily around the ears, are light, do not impede conversation, and can be safely disposed of at the end of the day. 

Face masks are already a legal requirement on public transport, so it pays to instruct employees to keep the same mask on right through to the journey home. 

Medical Gloves

Gloves are recommended in the workplace:

  • For cleaners
  • If you are caring for someone sick with suspected Covid-19 (for example, in a healthcare environment)

In these instances it is important to wear gloves that fit proper healthcare guidelines. Nitrile gloves, natural rubber gloves, and polychloroprene gloves are the recommended types

Safe practice requires the use of gloves along with other PPE (such as a face mask), with immediate disposal after use. Then the hands should be washed as a precaution, or have sanitiser applied to them. 

“Traffic flow” tools — for workplace social distancing protocols

To limit the spread of the virus, face-to-face contact has to be limited if not avoided completely. People should try to keep at least two metres apart, but this protocol can be easy or very difficult depending on the workplace. 

In some situations, such as supermarkets, there is a constant influx of customers — people who won’t necessarily be aware of social distancing protocols. Any attempt to explain the rules to each new customer as they come in is like fighting against the tide. To be effective,  you need a method to exploit the brain’s attention.

To get people into protocol, start with a poster near the entrance loudly declaring that ‘social distancing’ protocols are in place. Then use yellow and black marking tape to delineate two metre intervals. The yellow and black colours naturally catch the eye as culturally we associate them with hazardous material. People will understand what you are trying to achieve in a matter of seconds.

If the flow of customers is particularly heavy (at an outdoor market, for example), you can capture a lot of attention quickly by employing some staff members with high-vis jackets that both enforce social distancing rules and help to direct the traffic. Directional floor stickers are also important if — like many shops and restaurants — the desire is for customers to enter and exit in a continuous direction. 

Strategies to Reduce Transmission

People social distancing at work

Items to Reduce Transmission

Not everyone can work from home during the pandemic, and even upon return, there’s still the chance that you could catch the virus.

Employers and employees will have to be extra vigilant working indoors, as the virus is 18 times more contagious in a closed environment than in an open-air one. 

Ventilation and open space

Studies have shown that coronavirus can travel up to eight metres in clouds of moist air, and especially through sneezes. So it pays to keep colleagues as spread out as possible (and to wear facemasks), with the additional preventative of having good ventilation in the premises. 

If you work in an outside environment (such as in construction) transmission is less of a problem, because the air currents should quickly disperse any viral particles — providing there is already some social distancing in place.

Items to Reduce Transmission

Avoid public transport

If possible, avoid taking buses, trains or trams. Studies have shown the risk of infection is approximately 100 times greater on public transport. Risk of infection grows if switching vehicles is required (such as getting another train). If there is no alternative, ask your employer if you can commute at less busy times and try not to hang around by the doors if possible.  

Walking, driving solo and cycling are obviously the best options — but not always possible. The next safest option may be car sharing. This does come with risk, but if the number of people car sharing is limited, and if the same people stick to the same cars and routines, again this limits infections. Taxis are less of a favourable idea, because they carry lots of passengers daily and come with high-risk surfaces (door handles, seat covers and more) even if the driver has erected a plastic screen. 

Items to Reduce Transmission

Discourage hand-to-hand contact

… and hand-to-anything contact. Non-touch rubbish bins count as a small but very effective implementation.

Keep your distance

Everyone likely knows the social distancing protocol by now, although there is debate over whether the distance should be one or two metres. The further away is almost certainly the better, but this can be difficult depending on the workplace. A good way to visualise two meters is about three steps away from a person. 

Ensuring work coronavirus safety

With all the items and strategies in place, it is now time to make every effort to curtail the coronaviruses’ spread at work. Substantial protective measures can be put in place with very little effort, that are easily adaptable. Here are just a few things that can make a big difference.

Tweak workplace schedules

Staggering out workplace schedules is another option, as it prevents “crowding” at the start of shifts. This is particularly important for manufacturing jobs, many of which result in large groups of workers congregating around the factory doors before clocking on. 

Even a 10 or 15 minute disparity between stop and start times can make a huge difference, and limit the number of infections.

Regular cleaning of high-contact surfaces

Including desktops, keyboards, doorknobs and even the dispensers of hand sanitizers themselves. Other less obvious ones include seat belts, lavatory handles, hand or grab rails, tray tables, and card payment devices. Even protective plastic screens count as high-contact, because of course their function is to basically stop viral particles riding on moisture in their tracks. 

Providing every employee with anti-coronavirus packs will ensure that this cleaning is more frequent and safer, rather than simply relying on a cleaner to do the work.

Return-to-work checks on employees

Extra precautions need to be in place if you suspect an employee has had the coronavirus, and is looking to return to work. A health status check needs to be in place. Which, according to the Centres for Disease Control must include asking whether the employee had the symptoms of Covid-19. The three main ones being:

  • Continuous, dry cough
  • High fever
  • Sudden loss of taste and smell

It is also important to know how recently/long ago the employee had the symptoms. If they have been tested, that is a bonus, but again testing is not always possible. Coronavirus at workplace employees are allowed to return as little as three days after symptoms have resolved, and at least seven days after experiencing symptoms. 

Keep your workers up-to-date with the latest work coronavirus advice

As bad as it sounds, many people have coronavirus-fatigue and have become so used to a life post-lockdown that the fear factor is not always there any more. Many people have shut off the news altogether, or are just confused by the apparent contradictions and frequent government announcements. 

It is your duty as an employer to keep on top of these changes, and to make the most important of them known. This can be in the guise of a simple coronavirus at work email or daily briefing, short and simple so that the information sinks in.