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Preparing workplaces for a return to business

Getting adjusted to a new way of doing things as the country re-opens will definitely take some effort.

Many companies are working towards developing workplace policies that adhere to new health and safety guidelines.

Since March, Trinidad and Tobago, like almost every other country in the world, has been struggling to balance lives and livelihoods. Although we are now in the third phase of “reopening” the fact is that not all businesses that are allowed to, are ready to reopen. Several companies are still considering what are the best models when resuming operations.

Among the immediate concerns would be how to ready their facilities for compliance within health and safety guidelines. It is unlikely that many business places will get back to full occupancy until a vaccine is approved for human use. How then do we manage such work arrangements and what measures should we put in place? It is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared as businesses strive to ensure the safety of employees and their families.

Today’s article offers some suggestions to make sure buildings are properly equipped, which can be taken in tandem with the guidelines published by the Ministry of Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA).

Workplaces should ensure all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems are checked before the general resumption of work.

Pre Start-Up:

With some buildings being almost empty for over a month, it is necessary to check all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems before starting back operations. For equipment such as elevators, have your service provider do an inspection prior to use. With plumbing systems, exercise all pumps, and valves to ensure they are working properly. For air conditioning systems, a service is recommended with specific focus on changing all filters.

Cleaning:

Several companies have been performing deep cleaning, disinfecting or sanitising services for buildings prior to start-up. There is a difference in the depth of cleaning among these services: deep cleaning may include steam cleaning of carpets and soft furnishings to remove all dirt and pathogens, while a sanitisation/disinfection exercise is focused more on removing latent viruses and bacteria. Such services include the fogging and spraying of disinfection solutions to get into every space and on to every surface and then the wiping of all surfaces. Of course, if there is suspicion or confirmation that a COVID-19 victim has been in the space recently, then full PPE should be worn.

Return-to-work:

Deep cleaning, disinfecting or sanitising services for buildings are important prior to start-up.

Before permitting employees back into the workplace, questionnaires could be used to ascertain the potential exposure risks so that they can be tracked. Guidance on how the work environment will change once employees start back should be given as well as safe-travel guidelines.

Access control and visitor protocols:

Consider implementing temperature scanning upon entry for visitors and occupants, and ask visitors to provide details or do a full screening questionnaire. This is done to ensure that someone who is already showing symptoms of the virus is not permitted entry. Temperature sensors can be hand-held units operated by a guard or custodian or they can be automatic, wall-mounted units – more expensive, but are able to save data.

Space management:

There will be a need for buildings to operate at partial occupancy levels for some time. Measures to ensure social distancing could include removing a percentage of chairs from offices and disabling some workstations by using caution-tape or signs.

Room occupancy limits can also be implemented by the use of signs to indicate safe numbers, applying six feet as a safe separation. Another strategy would be to utilise shift rosters to reduce numbers on-site at any time. This has the added advantage of traffic avoidance.

The use of barriers to block pathogens in the workplace is also useful to create safe spaces. Clear barriers at reception desks and cashiers are already being used and are likely to increase. Using barriers between workstations will be particularly useful in tight spaces where the option of reducing the number of occupants is not easy to implement. Re-designing spaces such as the corridors between cubicles may also be necessary to allow people to move about without having to get too close to others.

Signage:

In all the examples discussed, the use of graphic signage is important and has been shown to be very effective in reminding people what to do or not to do. Behavioural changes will not happen automatically and people will need continuous reminders. Long policy manuals may be necessary, but most people don’t read them anyway. Use of graphic signage will help to effect the changes you need to make. Changes won’t all happen at once, but strategically placed reminders will be useful over the longer term.

Good coordination and communication will make the transition back to the office easier. (Photo: businessinsider.com)

Regardless of when your organisation is given the green light to reopen, this new way of interacting with people in all aspects of life is likely to be with us for quite a while—possibly years. Work-from-home will also continue to play an important part in our jobs for the foreseeable future. It is important for companies to make changes now to their business culture and behaviour in order to adapt, survive and thrive. Good coordination and communication will help make the migration easier on employers and employees.

Remember that no single template fits all, and companies may seek out and customise models that suit their particular environments. The T&T Chamber continues to provide information and updates to our members via our special COVID-19 Information Resources page at https://chamber.org.tt/covid-19-resources. This is a repository of curated resource documents, including local, regional and international guidelines, and also has other information to help our business community be more innovative and agile in managing this evolving and fluid era. The guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health (included on the Resource webpage) provide a solid foundation to which companies could add other best practices to make their individualised model. Whichever way one turns, we all must continue to take precautions and ensure that the COVID-19 curve remains flat.

The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce thanks Edward Kacal, Chairman of its Facilities Development and Management Committee for contributing this article.

Reproduced from the Trinidad Express