Before you recall staff to work, you must put safety controls in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19. The hierarchy of controls is a basic concept of workplace health and safety. It ranks different methods of controlling hazards according to their effectiveness. It is often represented as an inverted pyramid with the most effective method at the top. The method with the least impact is placed at the end. It is important that you implement safety controls in that order. These hazard controls are most successful when used in combination.
The first step towards creating a safe workplace is to conduct a risk assessment. Once you have identified the hazards, you can then apply safety controls accordingly.
The hierarchy of controls to prevent spread of COVID-19 in the workplace is as follows:
Elimination or substitution
The most effective control is always to remove the hazard or replace it with a safer alternative. This is not an option in case of an intangible hazard like COVID-19. But you can apply measures that eliminate risk of transmission through physical contact. These include working from home, virtual meetings and offering curbside pickups or deliveries.
These measures modify the workspace to reduce physical contact between people. For instance, installing Plexiglass barriers at service counters or between workstations to enforce physical distancing. Floor markings, separate exits and entrances, and redesigning seating are some more examples.
These are policies and procedures introduced to ensure workplace safety. These also include signage and educating staff about the risks. Examples of COVID-19 related administrative controls include:
- Self-assessment questionnaire for staff and visitors
- Cleaning and disinfection procedures for the workplace
- COVID-19 safety training for employees
- Staggering lunch times, and shift start and end times to reduce congestion
- Recalling staff on a rotational basis to limit the number of people in the workplace
- Placing appropriate signage in the workplace on physical distancing and hand hygiene
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE is the last line of defence in safety controls. It includes face masks, gloves, protective eyewear and coveralls. PPE is used to minimize exposure to COVID-19. It must be used properly to be effective. Since this is the method with the least impact, it is important to use it in combination with other controls.
You must review the effectiveness of safety controls on a regular basis, and make changes where necessary.
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