Staying safe at work

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business
Simon Bloxham

Keeping compliant with new ways of working amid COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to affect us all has there been any great change to the advice for businesses from the Government and healthcare professionals. It is worth recapping some of the issues that should already be in place. Those at an increased risk of severe illness include people:

  • Aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  • Under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below
  • Instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds
  • With chronic (long-term) mild to moderate respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
  • With chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  • With chronic kidney disease or chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
  • With Parkinson’s disease, Motor Neurone disease, Multiple Sclerosis, a learning disability or cerebral palsy
  • With diabetes
  • With a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets
  • Who are seriously overweight
  • Who are pregnant
  • Who have received an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
  • With cancer who are undergoing active treatment
  • With severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma
  • With severe diseases of body systems, such as kidney disease

Precautions on entering a home

You can continue to work if you feel well and have no symptoms.

On entry to the home, staff should wash their hands using soap and water for 20 seconds. Staff should also be told to wash their hands regularly, particularly after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing, and when leaving the property. Where facilities to wash hands are not available, hand sanitiser should be used.

Staff should maintain a safe distance (at least two metres) from any household occupants and ensure good ventilation in the area where they are working. This will mean asking to have windows opened and for occupants to maintain a safe distance.

You must remember PPE as well and to safely dispose of all items once finished with.

What about contact at work?

You should plan activity in the workplace to minimise contact between workers and avoid skin-to-skin and face-to-face contact. Where face-to-face contact is essential, this should be kept to 15 minutes or less wherever possible.

As much as possible, keep groups of workers working together in teams that are as small as possible.

Staff should also wash their hands regularly so make sure there is plenty of soap, warm water and hand sanitiser.

Employees should keep the windows open for ventilation as this will minimise the risk of transmission. Clearance of airborne contaminants is dependent on the ventilation and air change within a room. The advice given to hospitals says that a single air change is estimated to remove 63% of airborne contaminants. After five air changes, less than 1% of the original contamination is thought to remain.

To protect your staff, you should remind colleagues daily to only come into work if they are well and if no one in their household is self-isolating. Remind them also whilst at work that they must:

  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a tissue (not their hands) when they cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately
  • Wash their hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Not touch their eyes, nose or mouth if their hands are not clean

Driving for funeral purposes

Good ventilation (i.e. keeping the windows open) and facing away from each other may help to reduce the risk of transmission. Vehicles must be cleaned regularly using standard cleaning products, with particular emphasis on handles and other areas where passengers may touch surfaces. Gloves must be worn during cleaning.

Cleaning procedures

Before entering a room that needs cleaned, perform hand hygiene then put on a disposable plastic apron and gloves. If a risk assessment indicates that a higher level of contamination may be present, or there is visible body fluid contamination, the need for additional PPE such as respiratory masks and eye protection should be considered.

Collect all cleaning equipment and waste bags before entering the room to limit the amount of travel in and out of the potentially infected room.

The person responsible for undertaking the cleaning with detergent and disinfectant should be trained in the process. Do not give this job to anyone unless they know what they are doing.

Take advice from suppliers where you can to get the right product to use for cleaning (usually a neutral detergent, followed by a chlorine-based disinfectant), then clean all surfaces. Dedicated or disposable equipment (such as mop heads and cloths) must be used for environmental decontamination and disposed of as clinical waste.

Reusable equipment (such as mop handles and buckets) must be decontaminated after use with a chlorine-based disinfectant as described above.

And when it’s over

Remember this won’t last forever and you will need to start planning for what happens next. There are lots of opinionated people out there that like to spread doom and gloom. Try not to be one of those. Hopefully we will be safer and healthier at what we do following this tragic time.

As a member of SAIF you can talk to a safety professional at Safety for Business by calling 08456 344164.

You are also entitled to a discount on its fees and the organisation can visit you to see how you are doing when it comes to compliance. This is free of charge apart from travel costs.

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