As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease many businesses are working hard to apply measures to ensure conditions are as safe as possible for their staff and customers. What these measures look like will depend on your business type and the layout of your premises, but there are actions all businesses can implement to create a safe business environment.
In this blog, we offer some useful tips that may help you transition to the new normal for businesses across Ireland. At the end of this article we also provide a list of additional resources designed to help you get back to business.
Tip #1 – Communicate with Employees on a Regular Basis
According to the government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol, “information and guidance should be provided by employers to workers, which should include the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, how it spreads, cleaning routines and waste disposal as well as advice on hand and respiratory hygiene, physical distancing, use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and work equipment where relevant.”
Regular engagement between management and employees is essential when creating a safe workplace and achieving maximum buy-in.
Tip #2 – Talk to Staff About How the Virus Spreads
COVID-19 spreads mainly through droplets created when a person sneezes or coughs. These droplets can also be dispersed while speaking or exhaling.
To infect you these drops must get from an infected person’s nose or mouth to another person’s eyes, nose or mouth. These drops can make their way directly and indirectly i.e. on hands, objects and surfaces. There is also emerging evidence from the World Health Organisation that the coronavirus can be spread by tiny particles suspended in air.
When staff fully understand how the virus spreads, the preventative measures put in place by your business will make more sense. This understanding should lead to better hygiene and distancing practices.
Tip #3 – Know the Symptoms
Catching symptoms early and making sure employees do not attend work if they display any symptoms can keep your employees and customers safe, while also preventing long-term losses.
The list of symptoms detailed on the HSE website provide the following common symptoms of coronavirus:
- Fever (high temperature – 38 degrees Celsius or above)
- Cough – this can be any kind of cough, not just dry
- Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties
- Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal
Note: It can take up to 14 days for symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) to appear. They can be similar to the symptoms of a cold or flu.
Visit the HSE website to read more.
Much like the previous tip, educating employees on each of these symptoms is a proactive step to help ensure the safety of your employees while also minimizing disruption to your business.
Tip #4 – Put the Appropriate Hygiene Facilities in Place
Creating an environment where employees and customers can easily practice good hygiene will reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The HSA recommend considering the following:
- Placing hand washing or sanitising stations at all entry and exit points
- Ensuring high traffic areas have stations set up also
- Making it a requirement for workers to wash or sanitise their hands before, during or after a task
- Controlling the number of workers on the premises
- Implementing the appropriate shift arrangements
- Keeping a log of any group work for contact tracing
- Providing PPE where there is a risk of COVID-19 exposure
These recommendations will allow for a safer working environment, allowing workers the comfort of knowing your business is proactive in protecting the workforce and the wider community.
Tip #5 – Encourage Physical Distancing
Providing for physical distancing of two metres across all work activities can be difficult. However, some tactics to help you achieve this includes staggering breaks, developing arrangement for meetings and canteen facilities, implementing a no handshaking policy, no sharing of cups or pens, adapt sign in/out systems accordingly.
Where appropriate, physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards should be installed. Netwatch have a range of services available to businesses to help manage occupancy levels, screen for high temperatures and set automatic safety announcements.
Social distancing has been a key factor in the prevention of the spread of COVID-19. Workers will feel more comfortable knowing there are measures in place.
Tip #6 – Ask Staff to Submit a Self-Declaration Form
A self-declaration form can help prevent a sick member of staff going unnoticed. By asking employees to fill out a form before attending their workplace, management can identify high-risk employees and prevent one case turning into more. Typical questions might include:
- Have you experienced symptoms such as cough, fever, high temperature, sore throat, runny nose, breathlessness or flu like symptoms now or in the past 14 days? YES/NO
- Have you been diagnosed with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection in the last 14 days? YES/NO
- Are you a close contact of a person who is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 in the past 14 days (i.e. less than 2 metres for more than 15 minutes in total over a day)? YES/NO
Having to fill out the form may help to keep people aware of monitoring their own health. This can encourage employees to be mindful of symptoms, and ensure they are remaining safe and protecting the people around them.
Tip #7 – Create a COVID-19 Response Plan
Should the worst happen, and a member of staff begins to show coronavirus symptoms, employers must have a defined response structure in place.
The guidelines set out by the Irish government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol include the creation of a well-ventilated isolation room/area ahead of time, along with a defined route to and from the room/area. Consideration should also be given to the possibility of multiple cases presenting simultaneously. This may require additional rooms/areas being made available.
For a full list of details on dealing with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace follow the Return to Work Safely webpage. For information on personal protective equipment visit the Health and Safety Authority webpage dedicated to the subject.
Having a clear Response Plan in place in essential, and it is also important that employees are made aware of this plan in detail.
Tip #8 – Leverage Online Resources
There is a large repository of information available to employers online. You will find a list of resources below to help you open and maintain a safe workplace for both employees and customers.
Taking steps to protect your workforce and the wider community will help create a more comfortable environment for your business. Staff, visitors and customers should appreciate measures that are proactively implemented in order to reduce overall risk and increase safety.
There is vast amount of information and resources available to help at this time. It takes time and investment to implement the necessary measures, but there are also some small measures that will make a big difference. Making sure you have all the necessary information and sharing this detail clearly with your employees will help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on your business.
General COVID-19 Resources
Symptoms of coronavirus from the HSE
Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business from the Irish Government
Reopening Business: Getting Ireland Back to Work Safely from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation
Return to Work Safely Templates, Checklists and Posters from the Health and Safety Authority
Supports for Businesses Impacted by COVID-19 from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation
Information on personal protective equipment from the Health and Safety Authority
Netwatch Back to Business services
COVID-19 Resources for the Retail Sector
Workplace Protection and Improvement Guide from the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI)
Retail Protection and Improvement Guide from the NSAI
COVID-19 Shopping Centre Recovery and Protection Guide from the NSAI
Barrier Mask Specification for Consumers from the NSAI