The Malta Independent 10 April 2020, Friday

Getting your workplace ‘Coronavirus ready’ in 5 simple steps

Rebekah Cilia Friday, 28 February 2020, 15:09 Last update: about 2 months ago

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued guidance for businesses and employers, outlining simple ways to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, things to consider when employees travel, and how to get your business ready in case the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) arrives.

Whilst there is no reason to panic, the WHO has stated there is a high risk of the COVID-19 of spreading. Despite this, the WHO has not declared it a pandemic yet but is taking action to contain the disease.

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The low-cost measures below will help prevent the spread of infections in your workplace, such as colds, flu and stomach bugs, and protect your customers, contractors and employees.

The WHO has said that employers should start doing these things now, even if coronavirus has not arrived in Malta. They can already reduce working days lost due to illness and stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 if it arrives.

Here are five simple steps that can be taken to get your workplace ready, according to WHO guidance.

Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic

Surfaces (e.g.desks and tables) and objects (e.g. telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly. This is because contamination on surfaces touched by employees and customers is one of the main ways that the coronavirus spreads 

2. Promote regular and thorough hand-washing by employees, contractors and customers 

This can be enhanced by putting sanitising hand rub dispensers in prominent places and making sure the dispensers are filled regularly. You could even include display posters promoting hand-washing.

It should also be ensure that staff, contractors and customer have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water. Why? Because washing kills the virus on your hands and prevents it from spreading.

3. Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace

This could be done by providing face masks (WHO notes that ordinary surgical face masks rather than N95 face masks are sufficient) for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing of them. Paper tissues should also be readily available.

4. Advise employees and contractors to consult national travel advice before going on business trips

5. Brief your employees, contractors and customers

It should be explained, as a precaution, that if COVID-19 starts spreading anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home. They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medications, such as paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask symptoms of infection

It should also be made clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.

How does the virus spread?

When someone who has the new coronavirus coughs or exhales they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects - such as desks, tables or telephones.

People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects – and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. If they are standing within one meter of a person with COVID-19 they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by them.

In other words, COVID-19 spreads in a similar way to flu. Most persons infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and recover. However, some go on to experience more serious illness and may require hospital care.

Risk of serious illness rises with age: people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 40. People with weakened immune systems and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness.

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