Pandemic response for continued operational facilities
The rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic has prompted governments and businesses to take extraordinary steps to help slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe. As a result, many organisations, including those deemed essential, are being forced to take increased precautions when operating their workplaces.
With Australia set to relax some of the strict measures in place and follow a planned pathway to restart the economy, organisations are now faced with the challenge of operating their workplaces in the COVID-19 pandemic environment.
Whether you have continued operations in your workplace throughout the pandemic to date or are now considering reopening, there are three key processes that should be executed:
1. COVID-19 Pandemic Risk Assessment
Any organisation with exposure to COVID-19, still operating or planning to reopen, should conduct a COVID-19 pandemic risk assessment to identify potential risk factors and implement controls to minimise those risks. Risks start at an employee’s commute to work and should include consideration to the type of workplace, exposure to the public and size, type and layout of the workplace.
2. COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Plan
Each operating workplace should develop and implement an operational plan to identify the systems and processes to be in place to define how the COVID-19 risk will be managed. This should be developed following the completion of the risk assessment and draw on the controls identified during that process.
3. COVID-19 Pandemic Outbreak Plan
Every organisation needs to prepare notification, closure, sanitation and reopening plans and procedures to manage the response to a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection. Notifications should include the relevant health authorities and state or territory regulators as required.
There are many resources, tools and information available to help you with these steps. Safe Work Australia (SWA) has recently released their online resource platform: COVID-19 information for workplaces. The website has an interactive search function to guide your search based on industry and type of operation and has useful information on the steps that can be taken to manage the risks of operating in a COVID-19 environment.
Below are some recommended steps, considerations and tips to help keep your workplaces and people safe and operational during this pandemic.
- Consider who should be in your workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you don’t rely on face to face interactions, limit the potential exposure to unknown sources and reduce the number of contractors, customers and visitors to your workplace.
- Communicate that your workplace remains operational to key stakeholders who need to be informed i.e., employees, vendors and key customers.
- Communicate any changes to operations such as changes of working/opening hours, changes to operations or general entry and exit procedures.
- Review significant operational changes with your Marsh insurance broker and workforce consultant.
Your people – Health, wellbeing and productivity
Your people and workforce are your biggest asset and must be considered in your pandemic operational plan.
- Consult with your workforce to identify specific requirements for your workplace to minimise the risk of COVID-19.
- Talk to your employees about how they are coping with the pandemic. Manage any mental health issues sensitively and refer to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider as required.
- Reassure workers with concerns by explaining all of the actions you are taking to manage the risks.
- Inform workers about their entitlements and any procedures to adhere to if they become unfit for work, are required to self-isolate or are required to become a carer.
- Consider your workforce’s needs in the event that some or all employees may be required to self-isolate to ensure that operations can continue.
- Work with your cleaning service provider to establish high-frequency cleaning and disinfecting protocols according to your operational risk and best available recommendations. Current guidelines from SWA can be found here.
- Prepare a cleaning and disinfecting protocol following the suspected or confirmed presence of COVID-19 within your workplace.
- Remove, cover or replace porous surfaces to simplify sterilisation.
- Ensure that frequently touched surfaces are cleaned regularly throughout the day and as a minimum, daily or after each shift.
Screening employees, visitors and contractors
- Establish health assessment protocols and screening locations to screen employees, visitors and contractors before they can enter the workplace. Communicate these protocols in advance of arrival to prevent visitors that may pose additional risk such as a visitor with a fever or cold and flu like symptoms. The number of screening locations should be minimised and they should be set up in a way that limits physical exposure to screeners – examples include protective equipment worn by screeners, placing them behind plastic barriers or placing physical objects such as a table between them and persons entering to ensure proper distancing.
- Ensure employees, visitors and contractors are informed/trained on the workplace’s protocols, virus spread reduction measures and rules, and that they respect them.
- If required based on your business, establish secondary entrances and areas of the workplace exclusively for people that may have been exposed to COVID-19. These areas should have more stringent physical separation requirements and sterilisation/cleaning protocols. Access to these “separation” areas and movement of these individuals should be minimised, tracked and carefully controlled.
- Where practical, create daily logs for the names, contact details and site activities of all occupants for tracking and notification purposes, if required at a future date.
Enforcing physical distancing
- Review the physical size and layout of the workplace to comply with the 4m2 of space per person rule inside the facility at any one time. Determine if some tasks and operations can be temporarily moved to outdoor areas to reduce the number of people indoors.
- Remind employees and visitors to respect the 1.5 metre physical distancing recommendation by the Department of Health. Ensure workstations and processes are set-up accordingly. Post signage throughout the workplace as a reminder.
- For high-traffic areas such as kitchens and breakout rooms, conference rooms, queues, etc. use physical markings and remove furniture to clearly demonstrate the appropriate distances and discourage breaching them.
- Erect physical barriers, such as clear plastic shields, to physically separate occupants at bottleneck points within the facilities where a 1.5 metre buffer cannot be established.
- Where required, encourage remote servicing and/or outdoor contactless interactions.
- Encourage cash-free interactions.
Promoting hand sanitation throughout your facility
The World Health Organisation deems frequent and proper handwashing as one of the best forms of protection against COVID-19. Interestingly, 80% of infections are transmitted by hands. Accordingly, handwashing is the number one way that people can protect themselves and others against most illnesses and infections.
Here are some handwashing tips that can be provided to employees and visitors:
- Encourage all entrants to wash their hands at the entry to your workplace. Alternatively, provide and promote hand sanitisation stations at all entrances and exits.
- Wash hands at least 3-5 times per day. This includes after using the restroom, before and after eating, before and after handling raw food materials, and after coming into direct contact with shared surfaces in public spaces.
- Wash hands with antibacterial soap to kill germs that can live on them.
- Wash hands for at least 20 seconds to effectively kill germs. (Long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice or count aloud.)
Encouraging people to wash their hands can be challenging. To help promote this practice, here are some suggestions:
- Place signs in restrooms and in hallways. Signs can gently remind people to wash their hands and even teach them best practices. Use visual aids / simple graphics.
- Purchase and install hand sanitiser dispensers in high-traffic areas or entryways for people to easily access to help keep your facility cleaner and safer.
Providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Consider (via the risk assessment) the risk factors of your employees, contractors and visitors. If there are populations of people at higher risk, such as entrance screeners, you may consider the use of PPE such as gloves, masks, gowns and/or eye protection for these individuals.
- Promote the use of non-medical face masks or face shields in line with health authority recommendations. Although these masks may not provide full protection to the wearer, they may help to limit the spread of the virus from a potentially infected person, particularly if they are unaware that they are sick and/or infectious yet.
- Ensure emergency response plans are up-to-date.
- Review and update contact information/telephone/communication trees.
- Make certain emergency contact information at each location is conspicuously posted for emergency response agencies.
- Ensure fire department boxes have the most up-to-date facility information, keys, and access control credentials.
- Test your emergency communications systems (i.e. SMS text, RSS feeds, auto-dialing, email, etc.). This includes requiring employees to confirm receipt of test messages.
- Fire protection and life safety systems should be fully operational. Although some maintenance of systems may need to be postponed to reduce the number of visitors and contractors entering the workplace, ongoing maintenance of fire protection and life safety systems ordinarily completed by facility maintenance personnel should continue to be carried out to the extent possible.
- Reinforce your cybersecurity protocols with employees and ask them to remain hyper-vigilant to ransomware and phishing scams. Cyber criminals will use the current pandemic to prey on organisations and their staff.
If you have any questions or need additional guidance, please reach out to your Marsh representative, or email us here.