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Dr Tatenda Simango

Greetings to you all. I trust you are in good health and keeping well.

Level Two of the lockdown is in place and most people have started operations in their places of employment. In this article, we shall look at the Ministry of Health and Child Care guidelines on how to prevent and contain the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace.

Each employer has a critical role to play in the protection of their workers and in curbing the transmission of the virus to their clients. The workplace is a high-risk area for Covid-19 as many people come together and share common spaces.

Interventions to prevent and control infection:

— Install alcohol-based sanitisers sufficiently considering the multiple entry points. Make sure they are continuously refilled. Make sure staff members are aware of existence of the sanitisers and use them. You can have “non-touch” water dispensers. Place signs to remind people about handwashing and use of sanitisers around the workplace.

– Suspend physical meetings and explore virtual meetings. Hold necessary meetings outside in open air if possible. Disinfect/ clean meeting rooms between each meeting if they are continuing. Leave doors open in the morning and have them closed at the end of the day.

Administrative control measures that may be put in place include:

Regularly disinfect toilets.

Discourage use of air conditioners.

Explore the work-from-home option.

No handshaking policy.

Promote cough and sneeze etiquette.

Lunch at desk rather than in lunchroom.

Magnify hygiene rules for example to discourage touching face.

All workers should immediately be isolated and asked to stay at home. Staff with ill household members should stay at home. They should not handle food nor share food while still in the office space.

Assess business travel risks. Enhance hygiene and screening for illness among food handling (for example canteen or restaurant) staff and their close contacts.

Avoid planning crowded events on site by rescheduling, staggering, or cancelling.

Routine cleaning of all workplaces should be done frequently. Special attention should be taken for commonly used places such as doorknobs, service counters and remote controls as well as any other control panels should be sanitised regularly, preferably with disposable wipes.

Establish shifts schedules to reduce the total number of employees on-site at any given time

Discourage workers from using other workers phones, desks, offices and other work tools or equipment.

Certain occupational health services practices put the workers and health workers at risk of contracting Covid-19. During this Covid-19 pandemic, routine spirometry and breathalyser tests should be suspended together with all other aerosol producing procedures. Any other medical examinations which involve breaching the social distance rule should be done only on strict as per need basis. Should a medical examination be deemed necessary, the workers should be screened for the risk of Covid-19 before examination including a temperature check and appropriate history taking. The examiner should be equipped with adequate and appropriate personal protective equipment.

If staff members encounter a confirmed case of Covid-19 they are not considered cases but contacts and if they are feeling well, they are very unlikely to have spread the infection to others.

The following should be done for such workers:

– They should self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact with the confirmed case.

– They should be actively followed up by the local Response Team. If they develop new symptoms, or their existing symptoms worsen within the 14-day observation period, they should call the local Covid-19 Response Team for reassessment. In case the Response Team is not reachable, visit the nearest central hospital.

– Staff who have not had close contact with the original confirmed case do not need to take any precautions other than monitoring their health for symptoms and can continue to attend work. A confirmed case of Covid-19 in the workplace will cause anxiety among co-workers and some may become stressed. Clear communication is important, directing workers to reliable sources of information about Covid-19. Managers should be supportive and understanding and as far as possible flexible on work arrangements.

There is no evidence that coronavirus is transmitted through food. Workplace canteens may remain open where there are no practical alternatives for staff to obtain food.

The following advice applies to staff canteens:

– As far as reasonably possible, a distance of at least one metre should be maintained between diners.
– Notices promoting hand hygiene and social distancing should be placed visibly in these areas. If possible, increase the number of hand washing stations available.

Guides on social distancing at high volume businesses where queues are a common feature in Zimbabwe especially in supermarkets and other food outlets should be put up as it is important to ensure that these outlets do not become sources of Covid-19 transmission. One of the best strategies to prevent transmission is to practice social distancing. Social distancing involves standing or sitting at least one metre away from the next person. This advice on social distancing measures applies to everyone including those inside the food business and in the external public areas where customers may need to queue.

Besides social distancing, people should be reminded to frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitiser.

The following are a few general indicators that are relevant to the majority of retail outlets:

– Use floor markings inside the commercial spaces to facilitate compliance with the social distancing advice of at least one metre, particularly in the most crowded areas, such as serving counters and tills.

– Use vertical signage to direct customers into lanes if feasible to facilitate movement within the premises while maintaining at least one metre distance.

– Make regular announcements to remind customers to follow social distancing advice and clean their hands regularly.

– Place plexiglass barriers at tills and counters if feasible, as an additional element of protection for workers and customers.

– Encourage the use of contactless payments where possible, for example mobile payments by customers. Reminding customers to only buy what they need.

– Pick up service should be used in-order to reduce contact between people may be introduced. This means they should use the delivery service apps, open social media platforms, develop websites and call facilities where people can place orders online. Customers can have staggered collection times – customers should be discouraged from entering the premises until their order is ready.

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