This guidance document provides information on Resuming Office Operations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Caribbean. This information is based on currently available scientific evidence and expert opinion and is subject to change as new information becomes available.
This guidance is for employers, but workers and self-employed persons may find it useful. The guidance is designed to help with assessment of the risks for transmission of COVID-19 in an office environment and to help identify strategies to mitigate or manage those risks. This guidance intends to provide an overview of practical measures that can be taken to make the workplace safe for business during the pandemic period.
This guidance serves as a minimum standard that should be adhered to by the relevant parties. At all times individuals are to adhere to the current Covid-19 Regulations and the National Policy on the Use of Antigen-Detecting Rapid Diagnostic Tests (“Lateral Flow Tests”).
This guidance covers recommended measures for protection during the COVID-19 Pandemic:
- Risk Management Approach
- Worker health and safety
- Manage Identified Risks
- What to do should a staff member become ill
Risk Management Approach
Start by preparing or reviewing the risk assessment to manage the risk of introduction of
COVID-19 to the business and to define the process for achieving a safe workplace. The following four objectives should be used as a guide for assessing and managing the risks associated with re-opening:
- Protecting ‘at risk’ persons.
- Allowing persons who can work safely to do so.
- Supporting ‘low risk’ functions and operations that can be safely undertaken at recommencement.
- Introducing higher risk activities progressively, in keeping with the risk management strategy and in line with the National health authorities and industry-associated policies, protocols and guidelines.
Assess the risk
Employers have a responsibility to protect people from harm. All reasonable steps must be taken to protect workers, including contractors and delivery personnel, clients and others from the coronavirus disease. A risk assessment will help to identify any risk and what measures need to be put in place to manage risks and protect people. Follow industry risk assessment standards where available. The risk assessment should include as a minimum, the following actions:
- identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards);
- decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk);
- take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this is not possible, control the risk;
- develop and maintain a risk register to monitor risks and update risk mitigation/ control strategies.
Two Risk Assessment Templates are provided in Appendix A to assist with risk assessment in small to medium-sized organisations and offices.
Staff consultations: As part of the risk assessment process, consult with staff and involve them in the risk assessment process, including developing the plans to manage the risk of COVID-19 introduction in your workplace. Staff are more likely to comply with measures if they know the risk and have been involved in developing control measures meant to keep them safe and healthy.
Worker health and safety
The risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19 during an outbreak may vary from very high to high, medium, or lower (caution) risk. The level of risk depends in part on the industry type, need for contact between staff, and with customers or others who may need to enter the premises from time to time. Assess the risk to staff based on the roles they perform and identify how these risks can be managed or mitigated.
Ensure that worker health and safety policies are followed. If these policies are outdated or do not exist, this is a good opportunity to ensure they are developed or updated to reflect any policy and protocol changes with respect to COVID-19. This should include procedures for:
- Management of ill workers
- Processing of leave (sick leave, carer leave, etc)
- Working from home safely
- Reporting of illness
- Incident reporting
- Crisis Management
Manage identified risks
The Hierarchy of Controls is a system used to deploy effective controls within an organisation, workplace, or community to identify the most effective ways to control a hazard. Depicted within the inverted pyramid, the more effective controls are on the large, top side of the pyramid, whereas the least effective controls are on the bottom:
Figure 2. Hierarchy of Control Measures in Context of COVID-19 Prevention
(1) Elimination – Completely eliminates exposure to the hazard. The most effective control, but not always possible.
(2) Substitution – Replaces the hazard with a non-hazardous/ less hazardous object, device, or substance.
(3) Engineering Controls – Isolates the person from the hazard through physical or mechanical means.
(4) Administrative/Process Controls – Changes made to the way people work.
(5) Personal Protective Equipment – Equipment worn by the person to protect themselves from real or potential hazards, e.g. gloves, aprons, coats, safety glasses, respirators, etc.
The following section outlines various categories of Risk Management Strategies that can be applied in the context of COVID-19 prevention. These actions can be tailored or scaled based on the size of the workforce and the type of manufacturing operations. Various levels of controls are suggested for the office setting below:
Engineering or structural controls are important control measures that will ensure the safety of employers, workers, site visitors and clients. Some general guidelines include:
- Install handwashing stations at all entrances and monitor to ensure that persons entering the building use them properly. If a handwashing station cannot be installed, provide an alcohol-based hand rub/sanitiser. An effective alcohol-based hand rub product should contain between 60 % and 80 % of alcohol (ethanol or isopropanol).
- Ensure adequate amounts of soap and hand drying facilities are always supplied in the restrooms and encourage people to wash their hands.
- Install physical barriers such as glass or plastic frames around workspaces used by workers who interact directly with site visitors and clients, to keep them separated from each other.
- Institute proper spacing guidelines for work areas on site.
- In areas where workers, site visitors or clients form lines, place markers on the floor (at least 2 metre/6 feet apart) so they can visualize a safe distance.
- Provide workers, site visitors and clients with tissues and trash receptacles.
- Organise workspaces to enable workers to maintain a physical distance of at least two (2) meters or six (6) feet from each other – (horizontally as well as vertically).
- Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.
All staff and customers:
- Limit the number of customers in the building, based on floor space.
- All staff and customers should be encouraged to observe the standard physical distancing of 2 metres (6 feet). Additionally, measures should be taken to ensure everyone adheres to social distancing measures, as appropriate.
- Place posters in all areas explaining social distancing and how to practice good hand hygiene and sneeze and cough etiquette.
- Promote proper hand hygiene among staff with visual aids on how to wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
- Monitor public health communications about COVID-19 recommendations and ensure that workers have access to that information.
- Collaborate with workers to designate effective means of communicating important COVID-19 information.
- Provide a system for reporting customers or staff with symptoms and exposure history compatible with COVID-19 to your supervisor.
- Consider staggering shifts to reduce the number of persons in the office space at a given time.
- Where possible and practicable, include telework modalities in the weekly roster.
- Organise staff into smaller working groups or teams to facilitate reduced interaction between groups.
- Limit face to face meetings and use teleconferences as much as possible.
- Evaluate the need for travel and employ alternative modalities to engage with clients and field activities. Provide cleaning rules for shared equipment and ensure staff are aware of these.
- Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick or have been exposed to a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Stagger lunch and other breaks to reduce crowding in locker rooms, lunchrooms and staff cafeterias.
- Provide clear instructions to Employment Agencies and other companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encouraging them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
- Designate staff to manage feedback and complaints.
- Limit the number of persons in the vehicles, maintain physical distancing, follow hand hygiene, frequently clean and disinfect vehicle surfaces and wear appropriate face covering based on risk levels.
Customers and Other Visitors
- Manage the number of visitors to the compound.
- Institute a "make an appointment" system, where possible and applicable.
- Encourage customers to use online services and phone pre-order, where applicable.
- Provide constant reminders to customers and staff on the need to keep a safe distance with signage and voice instructions, as necessary.
- Provide appropriate and clear signage to instruct customers on what to do.
- Instruct patrons that feel sick or appear sick that they should not enter the building.
- Manage deliveries to the compound at any one time.
- Ensure contractors are wearing PPE at all times.
- Enforce a clearly established protocol for goods/materials delivery with controlled access to premises.
Personal Protective Equipment
Determine the need for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in your office. Many national authorities have mandated the use of face covering for persons in public spaces, especially if physical distancing cannot be easily maintained. Decide if you want staff and customers to use PPE, what type of PPE is to be used and when it is to be worn. Some considerations for implementing the use of PPE:
- When selecting PPE, consider factors such as function, fit, decontamination ability, disposal, and cost. Sometimes, when PPE will have to be used repeatedly for a long period of time, a more expensive and durable type of PPE may be more cost-effective when compared with single-use and disposable PPE. Each employer should select the combination of PPE that is suitable to protect workers specific to their workplace.
- Determine whether the use of PPE will be enforced for visitors and clients.
- Conduct training (including demonstrations) on proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment.
- Provide personal protective equipment that is either disposable (preferred) or, if reusable, ensure that procedures are in place for proper disinfection and storage.
- Ensure that personal protective equipment worn at the facility is not taken home or shared.
- Use of Face Coverings
- Follow local authorities’ recommendations for wearing non-medical (cloth) masks.
- Staff who are in direct contact with clients may use a non-medical (cloth) mask where physical distancing rules cannot be maintained.
- Use a medical mask or N95 respirator if working in an office where the risk of contact with individuals exposed to or infected with COVID-19 is medium to high.
- Perform hand hygiene after removal of the mask.
- If reusable masks are used, they must be cleaned and disinfected according to the manufacturer’s reprocessing instructions prior to re-use.
Disinfection and Sanitation in Office Settings
Current research in laboratory conditions shows that the COVID-19 virus could last for 24 hours
on cardboard, 2 days on wood and cloth, 4 days on banknotes and glass, and up to 7 days on stainless steel and plastic. While the virus may be stable for some time on different surfaces, it is easily killed and cleaned away by normal cleaning and sanitisation practices. The following are recommended for cleaning in office settings:
- Develop a cleaning schedule and ensure this is followed.
- Frequently clean high-touch surfaces with water and detergent and by applying commonly used disinfectants (such as properly diluted bleach).
- Staff do not need to wear eye protection or a protective gown while cleaning. Gloves provide sufficient protection unless the cleaning agent recommends more protective equipment.
- Office equipment, laundry, food utensils, and waste should be managed in accordance with normal, safe routine procedures.
- Should a customer or staff member be identified as a suspect case, staff should feel safe to clean the environment as basic cleaning agents will sufficiently kill the virus.
- Clean and disinfect bathroom and toilet surfaces at least once daily with regular household disinfectant.
- Ensure that office waste is securely stored and regularly collected by the waste management system.
What to do should a staff member become ill
- Staff members may become ill from exposures at work, in the home or out in the community.
- Any staff member who exhibits symptoms while at home, should stay home.
- Staff who develop flu-like symptoms while at work should be assisted to seek medical attention. Call ahead to the health facility to find out if they can receive potential COVID- 19 patients or if they are referring these patients to another facility.
- All surfaces that the infected employee has come into contact with should be cleaned, including all surfaces and objects visibly contaminated with body fluids/respiratory secretions, and all potentially contaminated high-contact areas such as toilets, door handles, and telephones.
- All staff should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water after any contact with someone who is unwell with symptoms consistent with coronavirus infection.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, work with local health authorities and assist with identifying any workplace contacts to minimise further risk of spread.
- Staff who have not had close contact with the original confirmed case should continue taking the usual precautions and attend work as usual.
Additional Cleaning measures once a suspected case is linked to the office
- If a staff, client, or visitor is identified as a suspect case of COVID-19, the office should be cleaned, paying special attention to high touch areas. It is important to ensure that environmental cleaning and disinfection procedures are followed consistently and correctly.
- Follow routine cleaning procedures using basic cleaning agents.
- Cleaning staff should wear gloves, eye protection, a face mask, and a protective gown only during the cleaning process or when in the same room with the sick person.
- Thoroughly cleaning high-touch surfaces with water and detergent and applying commonly used disinfectants (such as bleach) are effective and sufficient procedures.
- Office equipment, laundry, food utensils and waste should be managed in accordance with safe routine procedures.
- Used clothes, eating utensils, laundry and any other item in contact with a suspected case’s body fluids should be collected separately, preferably double bagged.
- Disinfect contaminated items in such a way as to avoid any contact with persons or contamination of the environment.
- Surfaces or objects contaminated with body fluids, secretions or excretions should be cleaned and disinfected as soon as possible using standard detergents/disinfectants and following safe procedures.