In a study, it was found that ⅓ of Malaysians are reluctant to return to a workplace. This includes economic hubs like Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. Both employees and employers are still on the fence about it.
Singapore, since September 2021, employers have allowed half of their workforce to return to the office with strict must-do's s in place. Singapore’s government announced that its workforce is NOT going back to the “Heightened Alert” era or lockdown.
Both the Singaporean and Malaysian governments are working to continuously monitor the developments of the pandemic to decide when return to work in full force is safe.
On the Malaysian front, we're also circling the wagon. The Malaysian Employers Federation President, Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman foresees a future of continued hybrid working environment as the sectors continue to open cautiously. The move is said to contain ‘superspreader’ events.
The responsibility to ensure workplace safety during a pandemic falls on the shoulders of both employers and employees.
Employers are responsible to take all measures necessary under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Disease Act 188 (ACT 342) and its regulations when their staff returns to the office. Managing the pandemic’s effect and efforts to eliminate it in the working environment is also a part of the Occupational health management ambit.
The risk of exposure to anything else, apart from COVID-19, has always been prevalent. Employees are still required to socially distance themselves from each other, wear face masks whenever within close contact with their colleagues, and observe strict hygiene practices in the workplace.
69% of workers interviewed by Randstad Malaysia indicated that employees generally prefer to continue with their WFH arrangement, at least until the vaccination programmes have conclusively run their courses.
However, the truth is that not everyone can work from home.
Some workers have either been asked or mandated to go back into the office, perhaps because the nature of work for the workers is not flexible enough for a WFH arrangement. In July 2021, the Malaysia HR Ministry encouraged employers to continue allowing their employees to work from home if the nature of their work permits it.
Whether we are ready to be able to go back into the office in full force depends on how closely we monitor the situation in our country and locality. Compliance might just bring us past the home stretch.
It also depends on the category the workers loosely fall under; the categories are those who are within the Low Risk, Medium Risk, and High-Risk groups.
These workers are not required to work face-to-face (too often) with other colleagues in the offices. Much of their tasks can be done either alone in the office or remotely.
They are not also not required to meet face-to-face with strangers or the general public as in salespeople and business development employees where networking with others is an essential part of their jobs.
The general work of this group of staff requires minimal or medium-level contact with the general public.
Because of occasional exposure, their risk level increases in a high-population area, high-density office, a hospital, medical facility, retail, or restaurant, or during gatherings (especially when there are frequent flyers around) where physical distancing is close to impossible
People in this group are those who are required to work in an environment where they are or will be in close contact with COVID-19 or asymptomatic patients. In their workplace, objects and surfaces could also be possibly contaminated with the virus.
Perfect examples of them would be frontline and healthcare workers, drivers and passengers, those performing domestic duties for COVID-19 patients, social care workers, home delivery providers, home repair technicians, etc.
The person in charge of occupational health and safety should be in charge of ensuring compliance. Rapid assessments should be carried out to minimize exposure to risks.
If the need arises, preventive measures will be taken. What we need to do to ensure our workplaces are safe is, however, unique to each country and specific to the work setting.
However, the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) has a list of recommendations for the officers in charge in an organisation.
For instance, physical distancing, adoption of better hygienic practices, risk assessment, regular consultation and compliance to local recommendations are to be carried out regularly. The W.H.O also does not recommend the full force return of all employees if there isn’t sufficient space to prevent overcrowding, i.e. at least 10 square meters for every worker.
Depending on the condition and requirements specific to the job and workplace, slight modifications to workstations, common spaces, transportation vehicles, and work schedules may sometimes be required.
As we battle the pandemic head-on, things will continue to evolve. So will the rules and must-dos. Here is a quick breakdown of how both employers and workers can do their parts.
Screening of all employees entering the workplace
Check for temperature, registration with authorities, and monitoring of symptoms
Checking for history of close contact of the employee
Keeping up with the latest in-office best practices
Regular disinfection of the office, especially common areas
Discourage large gatherings and overcrowding
Encourage virtual meetings whenever possible
Provide hand sanitisers, emergency surgical masks, soaps, towels, and rubbish bins
Disseminate the latest updates to all employees
Ensure good ventilation in the office
Practice social distancing
Practice good hygiene
Keeping workstations clean
Regular hand washing/sanitisation
Not to shake hands or close contact with colleagues in the office
Wearing a mask even when inside the office
Refrain from going back into the office when feeling unwell
Coughing and sneezing into the insides of your elbow
Report to your employers if you’ve been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient
Keeping up with the latest updates and complying with government regulations
We have to bear in mind that these measures will not one-hundred per cent protect everyone from COVID-19. The measures are meant to minimise the risk of exposure and to control the situations in workplaces better.
For example, temperature screening is not a catch-all because some COVID-19 patients may be either asymptomatic, do not have a fever at all, or have taken medication before coming into the workplace.
Therefore, workers should be encouraged to monitor their own health, be mindful of their hygiene, distance themselves from people who exhibit illness, take their own temperature at home, or use questionnaires provided by either the management, employer, government, or local council.
A standing Stay Home Order should also be in place for workers who are feeling under the weather.
Speedoc offers on-site and remote monitoring, health checks, as well as doctor house calls and nurse visits that will keep your workers safe. If they’re returning to work, you may want to monitor your staff closely while observing all best practices.