How to improve employee protection against COVID-19 in your company: Israel and UK standards

Burgos, February 8, 2021.- The fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus will continue for several years. For this reason, companies have implemented rigorous protocols to maintain the safety of our employees. Each multinational, medium or small company has established their rules. There is no single criterion, as the scientific journal The Lancet has well explained:

“Messaging around what is considered a safe physical distance between people has been confusing and inconsistent, seemingly drawing on a range of biological and other considerations, such as whether a large distance would preclude reopening of some facilities. Thus, a 1 m distance is recommended in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Norway; 1·5 m in Germany and Spain; and 2 m in Japan, South Korea, and, until late June, 2020, England. In England, the recommended distance is now at least 1 m, whereas 2 m distance is still recommended in other parts of the UK.

In New Zealand, 2 m distance between people is recommended in public spaces and 1 m is recommended in schools and workplaces at high alert levels, but there are no distancing requirements at level one. New Zealand also pioneered a social bubble model that allows a defined group of people to have close physical contact with each other while practising physical distancing rules with others outside that group.

According to this approach, what started off as household bubbles under lockdown were slowly allowed to extend to small and exclusive groups of family and friends, and then further allowed to expand and merge with other bubbles. The UK nations have endorsed this idea and started a similar support bubble arrangement since June, 2020”.

The Lancet magazine adds: An absence of international consensus is especially apparent with respect to face coverings. This difference reflects a combination of cultural norms and evolving evidence for the effectiveness of face coverings, although not helped by scientific inertia in some countries and in WHO. In Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, the habit of mask wearing by people with respiratory conditions was already widespread before the pandemic (ie, mainly to protect others from seasonal viruses or as a reaction to air pollution). Other countries have been slower to adopt this practice. After months of counselling the public against wearing face coverings unless they were unwell, Singapore’s Government made it mandatory for everyone to wear one outside from April, 2020, and provided reusable cloth masks to the entire population. During the past 5 months, Germany and Spain have made it compulsory to wear a face covering where physical distancing is not possible, such as on public transport or in shops. In the UK, face coverings are required in many indoor settings, such as in community centres.

Norway has recommended face coverings for adults and young people travelling by public transport where safe distancing is difficult. New Zealand has not recommended face coverings for the general public. Mixed messages and policy U-turns regarding face coverings have unfortunately generated public confusion and challenges to adherence in many countries and regions.

Various precautionary measures have been suggested for schools and workplaces. In all countries and regions, there was, at least initially, a push toward working from home as far as possible, while promoting compliance with distancing and hygiene rules for workers who needed to be physically present. In Singapore and South Korea, workplaces must appoint a manager who is responsible for implementing precautionary measures and monitoring employees’ health. In Asian countries and regions, workplaces and schools also practise mask wearing and temperature checking”.

Apart from this diagnosis from The Lancet magazine, if there has been a country recognized for its successes in its Vaccination Plan, it has been Israel. For this reason, I have been curious to consult your measures to guarantee the safety of employees in companies.

Anti COVID-19 Measures in Israel Workplaces

Employees will not be permitted to enter their workplaces, except for: 

  • Workplaces providing essential services.
  • Workplaces that provide essential services (such as the financial sector, energy, water and food), provided that the employees are necessary for the provision of such services.
  • Essential factories. Facilities with a special permit to employ employees during resting hours, so as not to impair the work process.
  • Workplaces engaged in construction or infrastructures, military industry, and security-enhancing facilities – 60% of their manpower.
  • Lawyers representing clients or providing essential services to their clients, that cannot be postponed.
  • Employees who are required to assist the Knesset’s Central Elections Committee or the Knesset’s Regional Elections Committee, for purposes of holding the pending elections.
  • Employees who are required to ensure their workplace’s maintenance or continued functionality. 
  • Government ministries, local authorities, religious councils and higher education institutions – at the allowed rate of emergency employee presence, provided that the provision of essential services is not impaired.
  • Educational institutions whose activities are permitted.
  • Companies defined as priority technological plants/enterprises – for the maintenance and operation of the Company’s systems.
  • Any workplace – if the presence of employees is required for the maintenance of the premises, wage payments or any activity necessary for the continued functioning of the workplace, for taking equipment or performing work to provide essential service to customers.
  • Caregivers working with children in their own homes or the family home.

From Israel to UK, protection in companies Anti-COVID-19

UK is also carrying out a rapid vaccination of its population. Their recommendations for the work environment are as follows:

Risk assessment

You should start by updating your risk assessment to manage the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your business. This will help you to understand what you should do to work safely and protect people. Complete your COVID-19 risk assessment

Social distancing

Where possible you should keep people 2 metres apart. If this is not viable, keeping 1 metre apart with risk mitigation is acceptable. How to maintain social distancing in the workplace

Cleaning, hygiene and handwashing

Keeping your workplace clean and frequent handwashing reduces the potential for coronavirus to spread. It is a critical part of making and keeping your business COVID-secure. Cleaning, hygiene and handwashing in the workplace

Ventilation and air conditioning

Good ventilation (including air conditioning) can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. There are simple steps you can take to improve ventilation while maintaining a comfortable temperature in your workplace. Ventilation and air conditioning during the pandemic

Talk to workers and provide information

Consult and involve people in the steps you’re taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in your workplace so you can:

  • explain the changes you’re planning to work safely
  • make sure changes will work and hear their ideas
  • continue to operate your business safely

Talking with your workers about working safely during the coronavirus pandemic (PDF) .

Working from home

If your people are working from home you should: 

  • provide the equipment they need, for example a computer, phone and videoconferencing facilities
  • keep in regular contact with them, making sure you discuss their wellbeing. How to protect home workers

Vulnerable workers

Make sure you consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus and put controls in place to reduce that risk. Protect vulnerable workers

HSE:  Our guidance on making your workplace COVID-secure gives an overview of the steps employers can take to protect people in the workplace. You can get up-to-date information about guidance and support on coronavirus (COVID-19) through GOV.UK.

Green Mowers: It is pretty important as well to follow up the different rules fulfilment. We have a monthly meeting leaded by our Health and Safety Responsible where we go through this topic and we analyse the staff behaviour and their suggestions in regard of Covid spread control in our facilities.

Green Mowers COVID Protocol

I would like to tell my own experience and the Covid protocol that we established in our company, Green Mowers. Those simple rules have allowed us to keep the activity and service level to our customers and, at the same time, they have reduced the negative Covid impact in our profit and lost statement. 

In Spain, first pandemic knock and lockdown was in March 2021. At that time, there was not enough information about the different infection vias and therefore we have been learning about the best practices every day.

The taken measures have lightly changed in the three different pandemic waves in Spain and obviously, companies have changed and adapted to the new scenarios every time.

To explain our way of dealing with the pandemic I will break the different measures into two kinds:

1. Organizational measures

2. Hygienic measures 

1.        Attending to the organizational changes:

1.1      Three different timetables were arranged to avoid the employees to coincide at the same time in the same place. Different timetables for Workshop, Spare parts, Support and Sales. The timetables were separated 30 minutes one form the other, starting at 6,30 am.

1.2      In order to minimize the negative economic impact, we placed the staff on furlough (named ERTE in Spain). Almost 90% of the company people were on furlough. Aiming to keep the persons involved and engaged, we got the people “on” and “off” in a weekly base, thus everyone who belonged to a specific department was working the same time in the furlough period.

Now, we are still working under the furlough special conditions that we hope to be finished by the 30th of May.

1.3      Teleworking. We eased to work from home to those who had children to conciliate the professional and personal life us much and possible. Rented laptops helped us a lot to provide people at home with suitable IT equipment.

1.4      Commercial trips (Sales Department) were forbidden by three months (from March to June) and all the internal meetings and customer meetings were hold online. Now we, fortunately, are allowed to travel around although different counties have different restrictions, and we need to take a letter safe-conduct just in case we are asked for it by the authorities. 

2.        Hygienic measures 

1.1      Wearing mask is mandatory everywhere inside the company facilities.

1.2      Every access to our facilities must have a cleaning and disinfection kit (hydroalcoholic gel, masks, gloves, and tissue towels)

1.3      We have increased and scheduled the facility cleaning (rest rooms and common areas) and we supplied special sprays for the employees to clean up the computer keyboards and laptops every day at the end of the day.

1.4      The cleaning kits are refilled by the department´s responsible.

1.5      We ask to our employees to avoid any physical contact keeping at least one meter safety distance between them. According with that only four people meetings were allowed. When that happens, the room must be ventilated for five minutes every hour.

1.6      We demand from our suppliers our same Covid protocols. The courier drivers are only allowed to get off the trucks and vans to take or leave the goods and they always must be authorised by our supervisors.  

1.7      We asked to our directors to keep the face-to-face supplier sales meetings suspended and holding them only online. Now these measures have been released.

1.8      Regarding the company vehicles and forklifts, we set cleaning kits in them and every user must clean them up after use.

1.9      Dinning room is just used by four people at the same time. We have scheduled five lunch timetables as follows:

o         12:30

o         13:00

o         13:30

o         14:00

o         14:30

Additionally, two free seats must be between the occupied spaces. Once people finish, they must clean the chair and table with the suitable product marked up.

3.        Measurements communication

As important as the measures is the communication to the staff about them. We send the measures update by email to everyone and we hang the list on the notice board.

4.        Keeping on track

It is pretty important as well to follow up the different rules fulfilment. We have a monthly meeting leaded by our Health and Safety Responsible where we go through this topic and we analyse the staff behaviour and their suggestions in regard of Covid spread control in our facilities.

So far my experience on this special and tricky period that has made us to improvise every day trying to keep the virus far away from people, our people. Our liability as managers.

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