Corona and occupational health and safety: 8 steps to a safe working environment for employees and to ensure ongoing operations in accordance with the latest regulations.

written on 08.02.2021

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In times of Corona, companies are confronted with many challenges. There is often talk of hygiene concepts, pandemic plans and occupational health and safety measures. For many companies, it is difficult to maintain an overview.
The following overview is intended to provide suggestions on what steps you can take to ensure occupational safety and operational procedures in times of a pandemic.
These steps focus both on how to initiate organizational measures and on concrete examples of actions and hygiene measures that you can implement in your company.


In Austria, the new amendment to the COVID 19 protective measures ordinance will come into effect on March 15, 2021. This includes mandatory weekly testing for other occupational groups such as employees with contact to customers, as well as employees in warehouse logistics, if the minimum distance is regularly undercut. For more details on the current measures and regulations in Austria, please visit the website of the Austrian Federal Ministry at: Current Measures Coronavirus - Ministry of Social Affairs.

In Germany, the current Corona Occupational Health and Safety Regulation ("SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Regulation") is extended until April 30, 2021. More information can be found on the website of the German Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs: Extension of the Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance.

Organization

In order to maintain operations in times of Corona and at the same time ensure protection for the employees in the company, optimal crisis management is required. For this purpose, a crisis team should be formed to define the most important processes, determine alternatives in the event of a loss of personnel and ensure sufficient and good communication within the company.

1. Form a crisis team.

Establish a team that gathers relevant information and determines the exact measures and regulations for your operation.

Select crisis team members to cover as many different departments as possible. This ensures that expertise and skills from different departments are incorporated into the planning process. For example, members may be from the following departments: Management, Human Resources, Quality Management, Facility Management, IT, Company Physician, PR, or colleagues from Internal Communications.

Once the team has been determined, a concrete place for exchange (e.g.: MS Teams) should be defined and regular (virtual) meetings organized. These can then take place twice a week, for example. The aim of these meetings/meetings is to discuss new information from authorities, to derive actions by the company and to document these accordingly.

2. Define which processes are the most important and establish substitution rules.

In the next step, it is important to define which processes have the highest priority. The following questions can help:

Which business processes are most relevant to the core business?
Which business processes must or should remain functional due to legal or contractual obligations?

In addition, it is necessary to determine what will happen in the event of a major staff shortfall and what a corresponding staff replacement plan might look like. Here it is important to clarify who could take over which tasks. Based on this, substitutions can be arranged. In this way, even in the event of staff absences, it is clear who will carry out the central tasks and processes. And it is ensured that operations are still kept running.

3. Ensure good communication within the company and establish uniform information channels.

This step is about ensuring that new plans and regulations are clearly communicated to everyone within the company. All employees should receive information on the current situation. The best way to do this is to designate a central communication channel.

Also determine who the contact persons in the company are. It should be clear to every employee who can be contacted in the event of questions or uncertainties, or who must be contacted if there is an illness or a suspected case.

Hygiene and protective measures

In general, the motto is: wherever possible, presence contacts should be replaced by digital contact alternatives. In those areas where this is not possible – such as in the production areas of industrial companies – certain regulations and measures must and should be implemented.

4. Hygiene measures in general premises and at the workplace.

The work environment should be designed to provide for the safety of employees. This can be done through the following measures:

  • Ensuring sufficient distance when arranging workstations.
    If this is not possible, other protective measures must be implemented. For example, the installation of Plexiglas screens.
  • Regular ventilation of the premises.
  • Affixing posters with information on the rules of conduct and the hygiene measures to be observed.
  • Provision of disinfection dispensers or similar.
  • Provide disposable gloves at contact points that are touched by several people (e.g. control keyboards).

5. Regulations on contact between employees.

In general, physical contact between persons should be avoided or reduced. Wherever contact between persons is still necessary or unavoidable, hygiene and behavioral rules must be observed (maintaining a safe distance of at least 1.5 meters according to German regulations or 2 meters according to Austrian regulations, regular hand washing, use of hand disinfectants).

6. Special measures in production and industrial plants.

In addition to the general hygiene measures and rules of hygiene and conduct, there are other measures to ensure the occupational safety of employees. In the following, measures are presented which apply in particular to manufacturing and production in industrial plants:

  • Formation of work groups: In companies with more than 10 employees, work groups must be formed that are as small as possible. It is important to separate the different work groups in terms of time or space.
  • Organization of working time: Contacts can be reduced by running shift times without overlaps.
  • Spatially defined upper limits for persons: If several people use the same premises at the same time, it should be noted that 10 m² are available per person.
  • Protective measures in cooperation: Even in production facilities, a minimum distance between employees of at least 1.5 m (in Germany) or 2 m (in Austria) should be maintained. However, if this is not possible, other protective measures (such as FFP2 masks) must be in place.
  • Regulations for tools and work equipment: Tools and other work equipment should be used in relation to persons if possible. If this is not possible, then regular cleaning and disinfection must be ensured. In addition, protective gloves are recommended (provided that this does not create an additional source of danger).
  • Regulations for work clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE): These may only be used on a personal basis. Furthermore, work clothing must be cleaned regularly.

7. Plan and implement further protective measures.

In addition to the measures mentioned so far, there are other protective measures that a company should take into account. Three areas will be briefly discussed here:

Break arrangements and canteen

In the case of fixed breaks, it should be noted that different times are set for the breaks of the different work groups. Safety distance in the break rooms should also be ensured.

Clear rules are also needed for company cafeterias. Schedules and/or reducing the number of seats can ensure that not too many people are on site at the same time. Alternatively, lunch boxes and food ‘to-go’ can be used.

Cleaning schedule

In addition to the normal cleaning schedule, additional cleaning should be implemented. To prevent infections, frequently touched surfaces such as touchscreens, keyboards, toilets and handles in particular need to be disinfected regularly.

Additional cleaning is particularly useful during shift changes.

Sufficient hygiene items must be procured in advance to implement the hygiene measures and cleaning schedules. Regular checks should be made to ensure that a supply of liquid soap, disinfectant, paper towels, etc. is still available.

Operational testing

Providing corona test kits or setting up a test line is a sensible measure for preventing infections in the company. Especially since, according to the latest protective measures ordinance, weekly testing is mandatory for many occupational groups.
Contactless fever measurement as a preventive measure in the company is also an option.

For companies in Austria there is the possibility to get cost subsidies for the tests from the federal government. Detailed information on the federal government’s contribution to the costs of in-company tests can be found on the WKO website: Test roads, test kits, cost contribution – WKO.at.

In addition, it could already be planned to organize a vaccination as soon as it is available.

Digitalization

Especially now in the pandemic, paperless processes and contactless distribution of documents are particularly helpful. Therefore, now is the perfect time to digitize processes and workflows and invest in the necessary infrastructure.

8. Implement the digitization of workflows.

With digital checklists and workflows, companies can respond quickly and flexibly to new adjustments.

For example, cleaning schedules could be changed and adapted in an uncomplicated manner. Likewise, other work processes can be more easily adapted to the new situations. And the implementation of safety measures can be ensured.

With digital checklists and workflows, the hygiene status in the company can be continuously checked. It can be checked internally whether hygiene and safety measures are being adhered to. And a documentation of hygiene deficiencies can be created.

In the event of an external hygiene audit, compliance with hygiene and protective measures can be easily verified thanks to digital documentation.

In addition, digital processes based on data analysis help to identify sources of errors. Improvement measures can be derived from the knowledge gained from this and processes can be further developed.

Are you considering implementing digital work processes in your company in the future?

Let’s talk about it in a casual exchange of ideas.