Safework Australia has released a number of guidelines for organisations dealing with the possible spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, with the first list dealing with an employee that is actively showing symptoms. The steps for an employer include:
Isolate: Remove the person from colleagues and any common areas in the workplace. Disinfect any surfaces frequented by staff, and inform all staff to wash their hands and disinfect their workstation. SafeWork Australia recommends giving the person a surgical mask, if possible.
Inform: Tell health authorities by calling the national COVID-19 hotline on 1800 020 080, and follow the advice of health officials. Depending on your situation, authorities could give you specific advice.
Transport: Workplaces are obligated to ensure the person has transport, either to their home or to a medical facility.
Clean: The area where the person has been working and all the places they have been should be cleaned. This may mean evacuating those areas. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be used when cleaning.
Identify: Find out who at the workplace had close contact with the infected person recently, up to 24 hours before they first started experiencing symptoms. Close contact means anyone who has been face-to-face for at least 15 minutes with the infected person or has been in the same space as them for two hours. Those employees should be sent home to isolate. If the infected worker had contact with large parts of the workplace, all employees may have to self-isolate for 14 days.
Clean: The areas where these people have been should also be cleaned, this could involve the evacuation of these areas and cleaners should also use PPE.
Review: The workplace should review the way it controls the risks of COVID-19 and decide whether work may need to change, with employees kept up to date on what is happening and on the appropriate safety procedures.
If that employee is working remotely from their home, and they begin to show symptoms, SafeWork Australia writes that workplaces and their employer are still obligated to meet the requirements to ensure they receive treatment as soon as possible, and don’t further the spread of the virus. They write that employers should still contact the national COVID-19 hotline and health authorities for more instructions. It is then essential to identify anyone in your organisation or in the personal life of that employee that might have had direct contact with the infected individual, and send them home, too to isolate. Keeping in mind that younger workers may have contracted the virus and be asymptomatic - that is, they don’t exhibit any of the symptoms - it’s also important to clean the workplace. Finally, SafeWork Australia advises that all organisations should review their safety management system to manage the risk of COVID-19 spreading further, and should give their employees regular updates and information in-line with medical authorities.
Now then, how can you identify the symptoms of COVID-19 in your workplace? The government has released a coronavirus symptom checker, which uses an individual’s age, gender, location, occupation, recent travel and physical condition to identify whether an individual meets the criteria for an official test. The major symptoms of COVID-19 include: central or crushing chest pain, unconsciousness or seizures, difficulty breathing, severe bleeding or someone turning blue from a lack of oxygen in their system.
SafeWork Australia’s guidelines conclude with a list of how to disinfect a workplace, which they say is determined by a variety of factors, including the number of respiratory ‘droplets’ on a surface, the material of that surface, as well as the ambient temperature and humidity. As a general guideline, SafeWork Australia says that regular cleaning of commonly-touched or frequented surfaces is an essential part of mitigating the risk of your workplace infecting others, which include door handles, tables, light switches and even electronic devices like phones and laptops. These should be treated with a combination of disinfectant and detergent and single-use paper towels, while using protective gloves and if applicable, a mask.
Finally, the government and SafeWork Australia have released a number of downloadable posters which they are encouraging employers to exhibit in their workplace to inform their employees, and show any members of the general public that the organisation is taking the health and hygiene factors seriously to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.