Back to work - how to create a safe environment for employees?

Countries around the world have introduced various social and economic measures to fight the spread of the COVID-19 disease. Businesses experience significant pressure to evolve and adapt to the new situation. After a two-month state of emergency in Bulgaria, the government is now stepping towards restoring the normal functioning of the economy, while adhering to EU and national binding and non-binding guidelines for adapting workplaces and protecting employees.

We have put together a back-to-work checklist with some of the basic steps employers should follow when resuming standard work processes.

Adjust risk assessment

Prevention of workplace-related infections with COVID-19 remains a responsibility of employers. Risk assessments should be adjusted to include the potential risk of COVID-19, as well as the respective measures to mitigate it. Occupational health service providers can help in identifying specific hazards and ways to manage them.

Prepare the workplace

Limiting exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace requires a series of collective and individual control measures. Here is a list of some of the essential ones to consider:      

○   Avoidance of close and prolonged physical contact    

○   Re-organisation of the space to guarantee a distance of at least 1.5 m between individual work spaces      

○   Installation of barriers between individual work spaces, if separate rooms are not an option      

○   Control over the access to common spaces (kitchens, halls, elevators) to avoid the concentration of many people at once      

○   Regular cleaning and disinfecting of the premises on behalf of the employer in accordance with the Minister of Health’s Order No. RD-01-262 / 14.05.2020     

○   Avoidance of physical interactions with customers      

○   Restricting the access to the workplace of people experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms      

○   Equipping air-conditioning systems with appropriate filters or avoiding their use altogether, if additional filters are not an option     

○   Prepare guidance on maintaining personal hygiene      

○   Provision of protective equipment     

○   Provision of easily accessible and regularly available disinfecting products

    Inform employees

    Clear communication is essential and employers should present detailed health and safety instructions to their employees. All employees should be familiar with the respective collective and individual measures and follow them at all times. Disseminating the instructions in visible places throughout the work space is recommended, so they can be referred to at any point.

    Stay flexible

    Staying flexible is essential after the isolation period and whenever possible, remote work is still encouraged. Preferably, only employees, who are essential to the work space should be physically present. This can guarantee the necessary social distance even in premises where otherwise it can result difficult to maintain the required 1.5 m. Vulnerable categories of employees – those with respiratory problems and chronic illnesses, elderly and pregnant employees, require special consideration and priority in terms of the possibility to work from home.   

    Consider privacy & confidentiality aspects

    Remote work involves a wide range of privacy issues to consider, such as the security of the information system and the platforms used for video calls and others. The corporate IT infrastructure should be equipped with sufficient software protection to prevent security breaches. Employees should be informed of the existing IT related corporate policies, which may include prohibition for installation of software, prohibition for visiting certain types of websites or other actions which may be dangerous for the functioning of the corporate IT infrastructure.

    On the other hand, processing of health-related data by the employers should be carefully assessed in light of the General Data Protection Regulation and of the Bulgarian Personal Data Protection Act. The need to ensure safe environment for the employees should be balanced with the other regulatory obligations of employers.

    Access control

    Access of third-party individuals to the workplace should be reduced as much as possible and ongoing screening should be exercised upon anyone entering the premises. Physical contact with visitors and customers should be avoided and it is advisable to provide them with disinfecting products upon entrance. People, who show symptoms of respiratory infections (dry cough, high temperature, difficulty when breathing) should be denied access to the work space in accordance with the applicable regulations.

    Involve employees

    Make sure you reach out to your workers early on about planned changes and how various health related processes will work in practice. Engaging with them in assessing risks is an important part of good health and safety practices.

    Manage the high absence rate

    Even if temporary, the absence of employees due to paid leaves or else, could cause a change of roles and responsibilities. Consider whether employees could benefit from additional training and support, in order to carry out the new tasks and requirements. This can include external opportunities for professional development that serve your purposes - right now a variety of easily accessible and viable resources are available throughout the web to boost educational and professional backgrounds.

    Stay-well informed

    It is important to draw up a contingency plan for the future and to stay well-informed with regard to the spread and evolution of COVID-19. As this is a dynamically developing situation, it is advisable to consistently follow the information from official sources such as the World Health Organisation, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Commission and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. 

    The present text does not constitute a legal opinion or legal advice. It is for information purposes and should be looked at in conjunction with the applicable laws, regulations and orders of the competent authority. For more information please contact us at office@kambourov.biz

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