On Monday, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued guidelines on preventive measures that need to be followed in workplaces to contain the spread of COVID-19. India entered the fourth phase of its lockdown, which will continue till May 31. In its new guidelines, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has allowed all offices to run at 100 per cent capacity, even though work from home is encouraged to the extent possible.
Here is what the Health Ministry has advised as measures to contain the spread of infection in workplaces and offices.
Basic preventive measures
These measures need to be followed by employees and visitors at all times.
1. Physical distancing of at least one meter to be followed at all times.
2. Use of face covers/masks to be mandatory.
3. Practice frequent hand washing (for at least 40-60 seconds) even when hands are not visibly dirty and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers (for at least 20 seconds).
4. Respiratory etiquettes to be strictly followed. This involves the strict practice of covering one’s mouth and nose while coughing/sneezing with a tissue/handkerchief/flexed elbow and disposing of used tissues properly.
5. Self-monitoring of health by all and reporting any illness at the earliest.
Preventive measures for offices
Employees who feel ill or are suffering from flu-like illness are advised to not attend office and seek medical advice from local health authorities. Further, “Any staff requesting home quarantine based on the containment zone activities in their residential areas should be permitted to work from home.”
What happens when someone in the office tests positive?
In case one or a few persons who share a room or a closed space are found to be suffering from symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, the following measures are recommended:
Place the ill person in a room or area where they are isolated from others at the workplace. Provide a mask/face cover till such time he/she is examined by a doctor.
Report to concerned central/state health authorities. Helpline 1075 will be immediately informed.
A risk assessment will be undertaken by the designated public health authority (district RRT/treating physician) and accordingly further advice shall be made regarding the management of a case, his/her contacts and need for disinfection.
The suspect case if reporting very mild/mild symptoms on an assessment by the health authorities would be placed under home isolation, subject to fulfillment of certain criteria.
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Suspect case, if assessed by health authorities as moderate to severe, he/she will follow guidelines released by the ministry on the appropriate management of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The rapid response team of the concerned district shall be requisitioned and will undertake the listing of contacts.
The necessary actions for contact tracing and disinfection of workplace will start once the report of the patient is received as positive. The report will be expedited for this purpose.
The ministry further says that “If there are large numbers of contacts from a pre-symptomatic/asymptomatic case, there could be a possibility of a cluster emerging in the workplace setting. Due to the close environment in workplace settings, this could even be a large cluster (>15 cases). The essential principles of risk assessment, isolation, and quarantine of contacts, case referral and management will remain the same. However, the scale of arrangements will be higher.”
Closure of workplace
If there are one or two cases reported, the disinfection procedure will be limited to places/areas visited by the patient in the past 48 hrs. There is no need to close the entire office building/halt work in other areas of the office and work can be resumed after disinfection as per laid down protocol.
However, if there is a larger outbreak, the entire building will have to be closed for 48 hours after thorough disinfection. All the staff will work from home, till the building is adequately disinfected and is declared fit for re-occupation.
What are the disinfection procedures to be followed in offices?
For indoor areas: Office spaces, including conference rooms, should be cleaned every evening after office hours or early in the morning before the rooms are occupied. If the contact surface is visibly dirty, it should be cleaned with soap and water prior to disinfection. Prior to cleaning, the worker should wear disposable rubber boots, gloves (heavy duty), and a triple-layer mask.
For outdoor areas: Outdoor areas have less risk than indoor areas due to air currents and exposure to sunlight. These include bus stops, railway platforms, parks, roads, etc. Cleaning and disinfection efforts should be targeted to frequently touched/contaminated surfaces as already detailed above.
Public toilets: Sanitary workers must use a separate set of cleaning equipment for toilets (mops, nylon scrubber) and a separate set for sink and commode. They should always wear disposable protective gloves while cleaning a toilet.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Wear appropriate PPE which would include the following while carrying out cleaning and disinfection work. Wear disposable rubber boots, gloves (heavy duty), and a triple-layer mask. Gloves should be removed and discarded when damaged, and a new pair worn. All disposable PPE should be removed and discarded after cleaning activities are completed. Hands should be washed with soap and water immediately after each piece of PPE is removed, following completion of cleaning.
Masks are effective if worn according to instructions and properly fitted. Masks should be discarded and changed if they become physically damaged or soaked.