Most workplaces are shared spaces with colleagues sitting close by and sharing the same facilities and resources, including centralised air conditioning and bathrooms. You might have rarely thought about how shared spaces can cause infections last year, but 2020 brought the COVID-19 pandemic - and with it came the deep realisation that workplaces can also become areas where infections spread very quickly.
Social distancing, wearing masks in public spaces and proper hand hygiene became the new norms since the beginning of the current pandemic. Extended lockdowns in India since March gave most workplaces the chance to disinfect shared spaces, and with the easing of lockdown restrictions beginning in June, many people have started going back to work.
Under such circumstances, it’s very important to remember that continued precautions against COVID-19 are necessary at all workplaces since the pandemic is nowhere close to being over yet. The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a fresh set of guidelines for all offices. The following are the key areas of COVID-19 prevention every workplace must ensure:
1. Asymptomatic only: Thermal screening provisions have to be provided at all entrances to ensure that those who are coming to work are healthy. COVID-19 has many symptoms, and if you’re showing any of those, you should call in sick and stay at (or work from) home. Elderly, pregnant and other employees with comorbid conditions should not be given work that involves excessive interaction with people and they should be advised to take extra precautions.
2. Regular disinfection: All shared office resources like vehicles and equipment/machinery, desks, coffee stations and bathrooms and fomites like doorknobs and hand railings should be disinfected after every use to reduce risk of transmission. Office drivers should maintain social distance and all vehicles must be properly disinfected with 1% sodium hypochlorite solution or spray.
3. Stick to zones: If you or any other staff members are residing in a zone that has been contained, then said members should not come to the office or leave the containment area until the zone’s been denotified. Such staff should be allowed to work from home or be given paid leave.
4. Face masks: Employees should be allowed entry only if they’re properly wearing face covers or masks. All officers and staff members must follow proper respiratory hygiene norms and carry clean masks or face covers as per their requirements.
5. Hand hygiene: Entrances and exits to offices must have hand sanitizers easily available for all. Employees should also carry hand sanitizers for personal use, and wash their hands with soap and water after using shared amenities, including the bathroom.
6. Social distancing all the time: A minimum distance of six feet must be maintained at all times, whether it’s in the parking lots, elevators, at your desks or at the cafeteria or canteen. Conferences, large scale meetings, etc should be conducted online to reduce the risk of transmission.
7. Staggered timings: Staggering work hours and break timings can ensure that all work-related targets are met, while also maintaining social distancing norms at all times.
8. Promote good hygiene: Posters and media promoting good hygiene practices should be prominently displayed in the office space. Employers should reward good hygiene behaviour of employees in any way possible to encourage everyone to stick to these guidelines.
9. Handling a sick colleague: If an employee falls sick or shows symptoms of COVID-19, he or she should be isolated immediately and emergency health services should be called. Any persons close to or in contact with said colleague should also immediately take precautionary measures and isolate themselves until tests can be done or treatment provided.
10. Closure: If there are one or two people who have been exposed to a positive COVID-19 patient in the office, then the areas used by them should be closed for 48 hours and disinfected. If there are too many cases, then the entire office should be closed for 48 hours and proper disinfection measures should be taken.