NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 9 – As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions loosen up in attempting to return to normalcy, organisations need to be clear on their policy on how they will ensure that health and safety concerns for their staff and their clients when at the office premises.
Below are some measures that organisations can improve the hygiene levels in the workplace to minimise the transmission of the highly contagious virus known as COVID-19 even as employees begin to trickle back into the workplace.
All employees are required to take basic preventive measures to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus, however there are a few areas that can become germ hot spots. The Desk space can be a hot germ spot and habours 400 x more bacteria than the average toilet seat.
World Health Organisation 2020 prevention of infections in the workplace advisory tips states that desks, tables, telephones and keyboards need to be disinfected regularly because contamination of surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads.
Encourage staff to wipe their desk and equipment surfaces and disinfect regularly. Eating should be done away from the desk to protect equipment from spills and food crumbs and keep the desk cleaner. Where possible, the organisation should encourage their employees to bring their own devices such as laptops and chargers to safeguard themselves and others from germs.
Common areas such as lobby’s and corridors can become a germ hot spot because they are high traffic areas. During this season of the pandemic, it is best to have staff working in shifts to avoid overcrowding the offices. Surfaces in high traffic common areas should be disinfected every two hours.
Lifts – Sanitise the lift operation buttons by regular cleaning. Restrict the number of people who are using the lift to 2 – 3 people in the lift at a go. Place sanitisers in corridors for ease of sanitising after lift use.
Display posters promoting personal hygiene – Have visual reminders for employees to respect personal space and maintain 1 meter or so between persons. To avoid touching eyes, nose or face without first washing hands and to practice good respiratory hygiene of coughing or sneezing using a tissue or sneezing into the arm on the side opposite of your elbow). Used tissues should be properly and hands cleaned immediately.
During the outbreak, it may be necessary to check employees, consultants or visitors’ body temperature for low-grade fever using infrared radiation thermometers, however this exercise should be done courteously. Providing masks and personal hygiene products such as sanitisers, paper towels, disposable masks and wipes to your staff will demonstrate care for your employees and visitors,
Meeting Rooms – Any official/un-official meetings with more than 10 people should be discouraged, but meetings can be carried out virtually. Recommend usage of facemasks (inside/outside the organization) during the epidemic period.
According to Hartaj Bains, Director at Kimfay East Africa, manufacturers of hygiene products, correct hand hygiene is crucial to prevent spread of germs in the workplace. “Wash your hands frequently and immediately you get to the office to stop spreading germs from public spaces into the workspace. Wash with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds and turn off faucets with a disposable towel if possible and always after using the toilet to prevent transmission of infections. Consider using a sanitiser if you do not have access to water.”
Correct hand drying A research conducted by the University of Westminster examined the transmission of viruses using various hand-drying methods. The study indicated that single use paper towels helps minimise the spread of viruses and is the most effective way to dry your hands in the washroom as they disperse fewer microorganisms into the environment than jet air dryers.
This helps reduce the risk of viruses being blown into the face of small children accompanying adults in a washroom. European Tissue Paper (2016) Symposium demonstrated that warm air and jet air dryers have a greater potential to contaminate washrooms by spreading bacteria into the air and onto users and bystanders. A multiple use textile or cloth towels also has a higher risk of spreading germs especially when a staff member has the Flu and hands are not washed properly,” Baines.
Organisations should have clear policies and procedures for sick employees, basically, sick employees should get medical care, stay home, and isolate.
Even after all these precautionary measures if an employee turns out to be COVID-19 positive, it is prudent to keep track of visitors into the organisation and document meeting attendees to identify and track any individuals who came in contact with the infected persons and take required measures.