COVID-19 Update: Getting back to Work? Preventive Steps to Keep in Mind!

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We all are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation still remains unprecedented. While the nationwide lockdown has been extended up to May 31, 2020, there are organizations/industries that are planning to resume operations. Given the health hazard involved, it is imperative for the employers/organizations to ensure that the health, safety and social distancing norms prescribed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (”MoHFW”), including those specifically prescribed for operation of the workplace, are strictly followed.

Since our previous update, we have set out below a summary of the key preventive measures, issued by the MoHFW which are required to be followed by the employers to prevent and/or contain the spread of the COVID-19 infection at the workplace.

A.  Basic preventive measures:  Simple public health measures required to be observed by employees and visitors at all times include:

(a)  Physical distancing of at least 1 meter;

(b)  Mandatory usage of face covers/masks;

(c)  Frequent hand washing for at least 40-60 seconds and use of alcohol based hand sanitizers for at least 20 seconds;

(d)  Strictly follow respiratory etiquettes i.e. cover the mouth and nose while coughing/sneezing with a tissue/handkerchief/flexed elbow and disposing off the used tissues properly; and

(e)  Self monitoring of health by everyone and reporting any illness at the earliest.

B.  Measures specific to offices spaces:

(a)  Any staff suffering from flu-like illness should not attend office and seek immediate medical advice from the local health authorities. If such a person is diagnosed as a suspect/confirmed case of COVID-19, he/she should immediately inform the office authorities.

(b)  Permission to work from home should be given to the staff requesting home quarantine based on the containment zone activities in their residential areas.

(c)  Guidelines issued by the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India , with respect to preventive measures to be strictly followed by offices inter alia include:

  • Installation of thermal scanners and hand sanitizers at the entry of the        buildings.
  • Employers are advised to grant leave to employees displaying flu-like symptoms, encourage them to take proper treatment and quarantine themselves observing home quarantine guidelines issued by the MoHFW;
  • Discourage the entry of visitors and allow only those who have been authorized by the officer who they want to meet, subject to proper screening
  • Meetings to be conducted through video conferences and minimize meetings involving a large gathering, unless necessary;
  • Avoid non-essential travel, encourage correspondence through email rather than physical delivery of documents to other offices;
  • Close all gyms/recreation centers/crèches in the office complex
  • Delivery and collection of post to be limited to the entrance of the building;
  • Ensure proper cleaning and frequent sanitization of the workplace (specially surfaces which encounter maximum contact) and regular supply of hand sanitizers, soap, running water etc.;
  • In case of requests received for self quarantine
  • Extra precautions to be taken by high risk employees such as those who are pregnant or have underlying medical conditions or are relatively senior in age.
  • Employers to take steps to ensure that such employees are not involved in any front line work/ have direct exposure to the public.
  • Adhere to the list of do’s & don’ts annexed to the guidelines.

C.  Measures to be taken on occurrence of case (s)

(a)  In case one or few person(s) sharing a room/close office space is/are found to be suffering from the symptoms of COVID-19:

(b)  The ill-person should be kept in isolation and provided a mask/face cover until examined by a doctor;

(c)  Report of the illness should be given to the concerned central/state health authorities;

(d)  Post risk assessment by the designated public health authority, advice to be sought regarding the management of the case, his/her contacts and the need for disinfection;

(e)  Depending upon the severity of the infection, home quarantine guidelines  in case of very mild or mild symptoms or other facilities in case of moderate to severe symptoms prescribed by the MoHFW to be followed.

(f)  Necessary action for contact tracing and disinfection of work place to be commenced if the patient reports positive.In case of large numbers of contacts (i.e. healthy persons who have been in association  with  an infected person or a contaminated environment and are therefore at a higher risk of developing the disease) from a pre-symptomatic/asymptomatic case, the essential principles of risk assessment, isolation and quarantine of contacts, case referral and management will remain the same, however the scale of arrangements would will be higher in view of the risk of clusters emerging in the workplace .

D.  Closure of workplaces:

(a)  In case 1 or 2 cases of infection are reported, the disinfection procedure is to be limited to the places/areas visited by the patient in the past 48 hours and the entire building need not be sealed and work in other areas of the building need not be halted. Work may be resumed post completion of the disinfection protocol (please refer to point E blow for further details).

(b)  If case of a large outbreak, the entire building is to be closed for 48 hours post thorough disinfection. All the manpower should be required to work from home till the building is adequately disinfected and declared fit for re-occupation.

E.  Disinfection procedures in offices

Guidelines laid down by MoHFW for decontamination of common public places including offices in areas reporting COVID-19 inter alia include:

(a)  Regular cleaning of office spaces, including conference rooms. Prior to cleaning, the worker to wear disposable rubber boots, gloves (heavy duty) and triple layer mask.

(b)  Disinfection of indoor areas such as entrance lobbies, corridors, staircases, escalators, meeting rooms, cafeteria, etc.

(c)  High contact surfaces such as elevator buttons, handles, call buttons, public counters, intercom systems, printers, scanners etc. to be cleaned twice daily.

(d)  Installation of hand sanitizer stations at the entrance and near the high contact surface areas.

(e)  Employees to consider cleaning individual work stations using a disinfecting wipe and should be seated at least one seat away from each other, to the extent possible.

Date:May 25, 2020