In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the appearance of a new coronavirus disease in Hubei province, China, was a public health emergency of international concern. WHO declared that there was a high risk that 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) would spread to other countries around the world.
WHO and public health officials around the world took action to contain the COVID-19 epidemic. However, long-term success cannot be taken for granted. All sectors of our society - including businesses and employers - must play a role if we want to stop the spread of this disease.
How does COVID-19 spread?
When a person with COVID-19 coughs or breathes out, he releases droplets infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects, such as desks, tables, or phones. People can get COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. If they are within three feet of someone with COVID-19, they can get it by breathing in the droplets. In other words, COVID-19 is spread in the same way as influenza. Most people infected with COVID-19 show mild symptoms and recover quickly. However, some people may have a more serious illness and may need to be hospitalized. The risk of serious illness increases with age: people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 40. People with weakened immune systems and people with diseases such as diabetes, heart and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illnesses.
This document provides advice on:
- Simple ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace
- How to manage COVID-19 risks when organizing meetings and events
- Things to consider when you and your employees are traveling
- Prepare your workplace in case COVID-19 arrives in your community
Preventing the spread of the virus in your workplace
The inexpensive measures below will help you prevent the spread infections, such as colds, flu and gastroenteritis, and protect your customers, contractors and employees.
Employers should start doing these things now, even though COVID-19 has not yet arrived in the communities where they operate. They can already reduce work days loss due to illness and stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 if it arrives at one of their workplaces.
Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic
Surfaces (for example, desks and tables) and objects (for example, phones, keyboards) should be wiped regularly with a sanitizing solution.
Why ? Because contamination of affected surfaces by employees and customers is one of the main modes of transmission of COVID-19
- Promote regular and thorough hand washing by employees, contractors and customers
- Place hand sanitizer dispensers in visible places in the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are filled regularly
- Post posters promoting hand washing - ask your local public health authority or visit www.WHO.int.
- Combine this action with other communication measures such as the offer of advice by those responsible for health and safety at work, briefings during meetings and information on the intranet to promote hand washing
- Ensure that staff, contractors and clients have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water
- Why ? Because washing kills the virus on your hands and prevents the spread of COVID-19
- Promote good ventilation in the workplace
- Post posters promoting ventilation. Combine this with other communication measures such as advice from those responsible for health and safety at work, briefings during meetings and information on the intranet, etc.
- Make sure that face masks and / or tissues are available at your workplace, for those with runny noses or coughing at work, as well as closed bins to dispose them hygienically
Why ? Because good ventilation prevents the spread of COVID-19
Advise employees and contractors to check national travel advice before going on a business trip.
- Inform your employees, contractors and customers that if COVID-19 begins to spread in your community, anyone with a cough, even a mild one, or a low fever (37.3 C or more) should stay at home. They must also stay at home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medicines, such as paracetamol / acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin, which can mask the symptoms of infection
- Continue to communicate and promote the message that people should stay at home even if they have only mild symptoms of COVID-19.
- Post posters with this message in your workplace. Combine this message with other communication channels commonly used in your organization or business.
- Your occupational health services, your local public health authority or other partners may have developed campaign materials to promote this message
- Advise employees that they can count this time off as sick leave.
How to manage COVID-19 risk when organizing meetings and events? Why should employers and organizers think about COVID-19?
Meeting and event organizers should consider the potential risk of COVID-19 because:
- There is a risk that people who attend your meeting or event unintentionally bring the COVID-19 virus to the meeting. Others may be exposed to COVID-19 without their knowledge.
- While COVID-19 is a mild illness for most people, it can make some people very sick.
- About one in five people who gets COVID-19 needs to be hospitalized.
Key considerations to prevent or reduce the associated risks with COVID-19 BEFORE the meeting or event.
- Check on the advice of the authorities in the community where you plan to host the meeting or event. Follow their advice.
- Develop and agree on a prepared plan to prevent infection at your meeting or event.
- Determine if a face-to-face meeting or event is necessary. Could it be replaced by a teleconference or online event?
- Could the meeting or event be reduced so that fewer people attend?
- Ensure and verify in advance the information and communication channels with key partners such as public health and healthcare authorities.
- Pre-order sufficient supplies and equipment, including handkerchiefs and hand sanitizer for all participants. Plan on surgical masks to offer to anyone who develops respiratory symptoms.
- Actively monitor the locations where COVID-19 circulates. Advise participants in advance that if they have symptoms or feel unwell, they should not attend the meeting.
- Make sure that all organizers, participants, caterers and visitors to the event provide their contact details: mobile phone number, email address and address of their place of stay. Make it clear that their contact details will be shared with local public health authorities if a participant becomes ill with a suspected infectious disease. If they do not agree, they cannot attend the event or meeting.
Develop and agree on an intervention plan in case a participant becomes ill with symptoms of COVID-19 (dry cough, fever, malaise). This plan must include at least the following:
- Identify a room or place where a person who is not feeling well or has symptoms can be safely isolated
- Have a plan for their safe transfer to a health facility.
- Know what to do if a meeting attendee, staff member, or service provider tests positive for COVID-19 during or immediately after the meeting
- Agree on the plan in advance with your partner health care provider or health service.
DURING the meeting or the event
- Provide information or a briefing, preferably both orally and in written, about COVID-19 and the measures the organizers are taking to make this event safe for participants.
- Build trust. For example, to break the ice, practice ways to greet each other without contact.
- Encourage everyone in the meeting or event to wash their hands regularly or use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Encourage participants to cover their faces with the crease of their elbow or a tissue if they cough or sneeze. Provide tissues and closed garbage cans for disposal.
- Provide contact details or a telephone number for the health line that participants can call for advice or information.
- Dispensers for rubbing hands are prominently displayed in the building.
- If there is room, arrange the seats so that participants are at least one meter apart.
- Open windows and doors as much as possible to make sure the place is well ventilated.
- If someone starts to feel bad, follow your prepared plan or call your helpline.Depending on the situation in your region, or the participant's recent trip, place the person in an isolation room. Offer the person a mask so that they can return home safely, if necessary, or go to a designated assessment center.
- Thank all participants for their cooperation.
AFTER the meeting or the event
- Keep the names and contact details of all participants for at least one month. This will help public health authorities find people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 if one or more participants get ill shortly after the event.
- If a participant at the meeting or event has been isolated as a COVID-19 suspected case, the organizer must inform all participants. He should advise them to monitor themselves for 14 days to detect symptoms and to take their temperature twice a day.
- If they develop even a slight cough or a low fever (i.e. a temperature of 37.3 C or more), they should stay at home and isolate themselves. This means that they should avoid close contact (1 meter or more) with other people, including their family members. They should also call their health care provider or local public health unit, giving them details of their recent trip and their symptoms.
- Thank all participants for their cooperation.
Aspects to consider during your business trips
- Make sure your organization and its employees have the most current information on the areas where COVID-19 is spread. You will find this information: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/ Based on the most recent information, your organization should assess the benefits and risks of future travel plans.
- Avoid sending employees who may be more exposed to serious illnesses (for example, older workers and those with medical problems such as diabetes, heart and lung disease) to areas where COVID-19 is spreads.
- Make sure everyone travelling to places where COVID-19 is reported is informed by a qualified professional (e.g., staff health services, health care provider or local public health partner) )
- Consider providing your travelling employees who are about to travel small bottles (less than 100 CL) of alcohol-based hand rinse. This can facilitate regular hand washing.
- Encourage employees to wash their hands regularly and to stay at least 3 feet apart from coughing or sneezing people.
- Make sure employees know what to do and who to contact if they feel unwell during their trip.
- Make sure your employees follow the instructions of the local authorities where they are travelling. If, for example, local authorities tell them not to go somewhere, they must comply. Your employees must comply with any local restrictions on travel, transport or large gatherings.
When you or your employees return from travel:
Employees returning from an area where COVID-19 is spread should monitor themselves for 14 days to detect symptoms and take their temperature twice a day.
If they develop even a slight cough or a low fever (i.e. a temperature of 37.3 C or more), they should stay at home and isolate themselves. This means that they should avoid close contact (one meter or more) with other people, including family members. They must also call their health and prevention officer or the local public health unit, giving details of their recent trip and their symptoms.
Prepare your workplace in case the virus arrives in your community
- Develop an action plan if someone becomes ill with a suspected COVID-19 infection in one of your workplaces. The plan should include placing the sick person in a room or area where they are isolated from other people, limiting the number of people in contact with the sick person, and contacting local health authorities.
- Consider how to identify and support those who may be at risk, without inviting stigma and discrimination in your workplace. This may include people who have recently traveled to an area with Covid-19 reported cases, or other staff who have higher risk for serious illness (for example, diabetes, heart and lung diseases).
- Tell your local public health authority that you are developing the plan and ask for their advice.
- Encourage regular teleworking throughout your organization. If a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in your community, health officials can advise people to avoid public transportation and crowded places. Telework will help your business continue to operate while ensuring the safety of your employees.
- Develop an emergency and business continuity plan in case of an epidemic in the communities where your business operates
- This plan will help your organization prepare for the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace or in the community. It may also be valid for other health emergencies.The plan should indicate how to keep your business running even if a significant number of employees, contractors and suppliers cannot get to your place of business - either because of local travel restrictions or because they are sick.
- Inform your employees and contractors about the plan and make sure they know what they should do - or not do - as part of this plan. Emphasize key points such as the importance of staying home even if they have only mild symptoms or if they have had to take simple medications (for example, paracetamol, ibuprofen) that can mask symptoms
- Make sure your plan mentions the social and mental health consequences of a COVID-19 case in the workplace or in the community and offer information and support.
For small and medium businesses that do not have internal health and wellness support staff, develop partnerships and plans with your local health and social service providers before an emergency occurs.
Your local or national public health authority may be able to offer support and advice for developing your plan.
Now is the time to prepare for COVID-19. Simple precautions and planning can make a big difference. Take action now to protect your employees and your business.
How to stay informed:
Find the latest WHO information on the places of spread of COVID-19: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/
WHO advice and guidance on COVID-19 https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019