New cases of COVID-19 have decreased significantly, so more and more EU Member States are beginning to gradually decrease the measures enforced by the authorities and beginning to resume certain normal activities. This fact has given rise to a series of questions from employers who are concerned about the safe return of their employees to the workplace.
Thus, the Guide prepared by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work and published by the European Commission on April 24th includes a series of general measures that come as an answer to the employers’ questions with regard to the return of employees to a safe work environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, with respect to:
(i) Risk assessment and appropriate measures:
- minimising exposure to COVID-19
- resuming work after a period of closure
- coping with a high rate of absence
- managing workers working from home
(ii) Involving workers through consulting their representatives on planned changes and their implementation;
(iii) Taking care of workers who have been ill;
(iv) Planning and learning for the future;
(v) Staying well informed;
(vi) Information for particular sectors and occupations i.e.: construction, retail, food, transport, maintenance and domestic services, leisure and entertainment, education, hairdressing, health and care services, etc.
An important first step should be the assessment of risks for managing workplace occupational safety and health under the changes caused by COVID-19 in the work environment. It is advisable to obtain the assistance of an occupational health provider in risk assessment, in addition to frequently obtaining from authorities up to date information pertaining to the spread of COVID-19. Further, it is necessary to develop a plan of measures that shall comprise a set of rules for the protection and safety of employees.
For a start, the Agency recommends carrying out only essential activities, the physical presence of workers who are essential to the job and physical distancing between such workers. In this regard, the Agency provides as an example, whenever possible, the arrangement of several workspaces for employees including spare offices, staff rooms, meeting rooms or even spaces regularly used as canteens.
Also, the Agency advises the employers to:
- Eliminate/limit contact with persons outside the workplace, like customers for example, by encouraging online or phone orders and contactless delivery;
- Place an impervious barrier between workers;
- Protect vulnerable workers (older individuals, people with chronic conditions, pregnant women) by facilitating telework;
- Arrange the timing of meal breaks and shift changes, in order to minimize contact between workers;
- Install devices for hand sanitiser freely available to employees;
- Encourage the workers to walk to work or to ride a bicycle, so as to avoid public transportation;
- Establish rules for flexible leave and the possibility to work remotely.
The Agency reminds employers that there may be cases of anxiety and stress among employees caused by fear of infection, illness trauma or by death of a relative or friend. Support from employers in such cases is important, as shown best by informing all workers about safety measures taken and by enlisting professional assistance for employees as the case may be (psychologists, attending specialized courses, etc).
Data shows that coronavirus patients may develop memory and concentration problems, may suffer from reduced lung capacity or may experience muscle weakness. The affected employees shall need more attention from employers, it being necessary to adapt their workplace and activities to their needs, with a flexible schedule and the revision of their tasks and responsibilities.
The current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic defines an exceptional context which could not have been foreseen and which demands the supplementing of new measures in the field of work proportionate to the aims pursued: safe uninterrupted activities and return to a normal state of matters.
The Guide of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work is not binding, it is a recommendation for employers that aims to provide practical answers in order to overcome the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic and to return to a safe working environment.
For more details, please contact:
Partner, Head of Employment
Phone: +40 21 796 52 61
Phone: +40 21 316 87 49