Summary

This article is going to elaborate on the key aspects that organisations must consider in their health and safety management system to prevent the serious risks of COVID-19.

The importance of an occupational health and safety management system in organisations has never been felt so widely until the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic. With risks of the virus spreading through direct contact and millions affected by it already, it has become extremely challenging for organisations to continue their operations with a huge workforce on the ground. However, after months of lockdown and complete shutdown of business operations in the country due to travel bans, social distancing norms, and other restrictions, no business can afford to stay closed. Economic downturn is becoming prominent, which is why businesses must swing back into full operation despite the COVID-19 challenges that still prevail while taking all necessary measures to ensure employee health and safety. While improving the OHS (occupational health and safety) management system is the most effective step to prevent COVID-19 risks in the workplace, here are a few other practices that need to be included in the safety management system in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proper Risks Assessment

Managers of the organisations, with help of expert health advisors, need to implement rapid health screening and risk assessments at the workplace. They should identify the high-risk, medium-risk, and low-risk exposure areas in their workplace according to specific work processes and workforce concentrations. Proper assessment of the level of risks will help to decide the appropriate preventive measures. For example, low-risk exposure areas are where no direct contact/communication with co-workers or customers is needed, and their job can be performed remotely (such as work from home or using video conferences). Medium-risk exposure areas are where co-workers need to be physically present and working together. Maintaining a certain physical distance and using masks and hand sanitiser is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For high-risk exposure areas, or where workers need to continuously come in direct with public or customers and touch objects or surfaces which are provided for their use, proper protection kits including PPEs, gloves, or face shields should be provided for the workers.

Rapid Health Screening

With one of the primary symptoms for COVID-19 being high temperature or fever, organisations need to run rapid health screening for their employees on regular basis. Thermal testing should be made mandatory every day at the entry point. However, temperature checks are not enough since many infected individuals are asymptomatic in the early course of infection. To have a thorough health screening, organisations can prepare a health questionnaire for workers which will help to evaluate their present health condition well.

Amendments in Health Policy

While every organisation’s OHS management works on a definite health and safety policy as determined by the management, the policy needs major changes to help employees deal with COVID-19 risks. Health insurance coverage should be expanded to provide for testing, treatment, and hospitalisation for COVID. Companies that have earlier provided insurance for occupational accidents should now include insurance for COVID-19 if there are high risks for contamination in the workplace. Other essential amendments that could be needed in health and safety policy are flexible work hours (to ensure workers can commute during non-peak hours and avoid crowds), work from home facilities (for remote tasks), and sick leaves (as any infected person needs at least 14 days to recover).

Plan for Mitigating and Preventing COVID-19 Spread

Organisations need to prepare effective action plans to prevent risks to COVID-19 spread as well as to mitigate any further risks if any infected cases are reported. Proper emergency planning is necessary for business continuity and management will need to take responsibility for such plans. Some obvious preventive action plans are daily health screening of employees, clients, contractors, and visitors, sanitising the workplace regularly, checking the use of masks and other personal safety kits by employees, and ensuring social distancing in work. While these need to be strictly followed, the organisations also should be wary of new regulations introduced by WHO and follow them. As a mitigation plan, maintain communication with local health authorities. When someone has been exposed to COVID, they should immediately contact the health authorities to report the case, get to a hospital if needed, and seal and sanitise their workplace.

Some massive changes or improvements are needed in the present occupational health and safety management system of organisations to get prepared for the COVID-19 crisis. A global health pandemic directly afflicting workplaces rarely happens, so many businesses ruled out the necessity to include the above practices in their workplace management before this current pandemic. Make sure your OHS management system is including these to ensure COVID-19 is dealt with, and to be ready for other potential health crises in the future.

Author's Bio: 

Damon Anderson is an expert health and safety management system consultant at a certification compliance firm. He has been practising for over 6 years and has helped numerous businesses develop a comprehensive safety management system considering the potential risks, health hazards, and mental and physical distress of their employees in the workplace.

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