With 50% of employees now allowed at the workplace, here's your handy guide to safe distancing protocols, managing unwell/suspected COVID-19 cases, and more.
Earlier this month, Singapore's Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) announced that from 19 August (Thursday), up to 50% of employees will be allowed to return to the workplace.
In line with that, here's a recap of the tripartite partners' safe management measures (SMMs) employers and HR need to have in place to ensure continued safety of employees, and mitigate the risk of widespread COVID-19 transmission.
*Note: These requirements are meant for general workplace settings. Specific workplaces like construction worksites and shipyards may have to fulfil additional requirements and should refer to sector-specific requirements, the tripartite partners have stated.
Latest measures effective 19 August onwards
With more employees returning to the workplace, employers should note:
- Ensure that no more than 50% of employees who are able to work from home are at the workplace at any point in time, regardless of their vaccination status.
- For example, a company with 100 employees who can work from home can have up to 50 of these employees at the workplace at any point in time.
- As workplace requirements and business models vary, employers are best placed to decide on work arrangements to ensure operational effectiveness and sustainability in the long term.
- Employers should provide advance notice to employees to make the necessary adjustments to return to workplaces.
- Employees should seek clarification from the employer if in doubt about their work arrangements.
- Temperature screening and symptom checks are no longer required at workplaces.
Employers are also strongly encouraged to:
- Support their employees’ mental wellbeing during work (whether it is working from home or at the workplace).
- Make plans to implement Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA). Employers should consider hybrid work arrangements as this will strengthen business resilience against the risk of new variants or future outbreaks.
In addition to the above, the following measures should continue to be adhered to:
- Companies should pay special attention to vulnerable employees (e.g. persons who are aged 60 and above, and patients who are immunocompromised or have concurrent medical conditions).
- Employers are encouraged to enable these employees to work-from-home, allow them to travel to/from work at off-peak timings, temporarily redeploy them to another role within the company, or take other appropriate measures to reduce their exposure to infection risk.
- Stagger start times and allow flexible workplace hours, to spread out staff across time and place, and reduces possible congregation of employees at common spaces at or near the workplace, such as entrances, exits, lobbies, canteens, pantries. It also reduces congestion of people in public places, including public transport.
- Employers are encouraged to stagger the start times for all employees such that at least half of all employees arrive at the workplace at or after 10am, as far as possible. If physical meetings are needed, they can be scheduled after 10am. These measures would enable more employees to avoid peak-hour travel, especially if employees require the use of public transport. Timings of lunch and other breaks should also be staggered accordingly.
- If it is not feasible to implement staggered start times, flexible workplace hours, and staggered break hours due to operational reasons (e.g. manufacturing production line activities), employers must implement other systemic arrangements to reduce congregation of employees at common spaces.
- No cross-deployment across worksites. If cross-deployment cannot be avoided (e.g. due to the nature of the job), additional safeguards must be taken to minimise the risk of cross infection.
- Work-related events are subjected to the following requirements:
- The number of persons per event must be capped at 50 persons to limit the risk of exposure to infection.
- Attendees must maintain at least one metre safe distancing between individual attendees, as per the requirement at the workplace.
- Meals should not be the main feature of the event, i.e. food or drinks should only be served if incidental to the workplace event (e.g. the meeting or conference extends over lunchtime). In addition, the food must be served individually with the participants seated while consuming. Participants should minimise the time that they are unmasked while eating.
- Work-related events held at third-party venues will also be subject to any additional premise owners’ safe management policies, such as Vaccination-Differentiated SMMs.
- Limit social gatherings to five persons
- All social gatherings at the workplace must adhere to the prevailing gathering size limit of five persons. Such gatherings should not include external persons, i.e. persons who do not normally work at that workplace.
- If the gatherings involve mask-off activities, such as consuming food and drinks, there must be one metre safe distance between every individual.
- Employers must ensure that all onsite personnel, including employees, visitors, suppliers and contractors, wear a mask and other necessary personal protective equipment at all times at the workplace, except during activities that require masks to be removed. Masks will have to be worn immediately after the activity is completed.
- Employers should ensure that they have sufficient masks for all employees, including any need to replace masks more frequently due to workplace conditions.
- Where possible, employers should consider improving the working environment for employees to enable them to sustain wearing the masks.
- Employers should encourage their employees to observe good personal hygiene, e.g. wash their hands regularly and refrain from touching their face.
- Control access at the workplace to only essential employees and authorised visitors. Employers must use the SafeEntry visitor management system to record the entry of all personnel (including employees and visitors) entering the workplace. All employees and visitors should check-in and check-out of workplaces using SafeEntry to help MOH in establishing potential transmission chains.
- Personnel who appear unwell should be refused entry to the workplace.
- Employers must ensure that employees and visitors declare via SafeEntry or other means (e.g. electronic or hard copy records), before being allowed to enter premises, that they:
- Are currently not under a Quarantine Order or Stay-Home Notice;
- Have not had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days; and
- Do not have any fever or flu-like symptoms.
- Employers should ensure that their employees adhere to MOH’s prevailing travel advisory.
- Where physical interaction cannot be avoided, precautions should be taken to ensure clear physical spacing of at least one metre through physical means and demarcation of safe physical distances (at least one metre apart) using visual indicators, where possible, in the following situations:
- Between all persons at meeting rooms, work areas, and workstations; and
- At all times during work-related events held at the workplace.
- Employers who are service buyers should also require their suppliers / contractors to implement similar safe distancing measures, so that operations and business interactions with these suppliers / contractors are kept safe. Where physical interactions are still necessary, e.g. delivery of goods, employers must adopt precautionary measures such as scheduling delivery times by different suppliers in a staggered manner. The durations of such transactions should be kept as short as possible.
- Employers should reduce the occurrences of, or need for common physical touchpoints in the workplace where possible (e.g. by deploying contactless access controls). Where physical contact is needed, additional safeguards must be taken to minimise the risk of cross infection (e.g. frequent disinfection of touchpoints).
- Step up cleaning of workplace premises.
- Ensure regular cleaning of common spaces, particularly areas with high human contact. Where physical meetings are held or meals are taken at common spaces such as pantries or canteens, employers must clean and disinfect tables between each meeting or seating.
- Employers must ensure that machinery and equipment shared between different employees across different shifts or alternate teams are cleaned and disinfected before changing hands. The sanitation and hygiene advisories disseminated by the National Environmental Agency (NEA) must be adhered to.
- Provide cleaning and disinfecting agent.
- Cleaning agents (e.g. liquid soap, toilet paper) must be available at all toilets and hand-wash stations.
- Disinfecting agents (e.g. hand sanitisers) must be installed at all human traffic stoppage points within the workplace, such as entrances, reception areas, security booths and lift lobbies.
- Disinfecting agents (e.g. disinfectant sprays, paper towels and wipes) must be provided at meeting rooms and other common spaces such as pantries or canteens.
- Take care of workers who become unwell at the workplace.
- To help MOH to more quickly identify potential close contacts of COVID-19 patients and reduce disease transmission, employers should encourage all employees to download and activate the TraceTogether app.
- Employers must take preventive action to guard against incipient outbreaks at the workplace, such as advising employees who are unwell to stay home and consult a doctor rather than going to the workplace, requiring these employees on MCs to closely monitor their health before returning to the workplace and requiring these employees’ close contacts at the workplace to monitor their health more regularly.
- Where possible, employers should ensure that each employee visits only one clinic for check-ups if unwell. Otherwise, employees should inform the clinic of all recent doctor visits over the past 14 days for any symptoms that may be related to COVID-19.
- An evacuation plan must be prepared for unwell or suspected cases, as well as for other onsite personnel.
- Any employee who is feeling unwell or showing symptoms of illness should report to his employer, leave the workplace and consult a doctor immediately, even if symptoms may appear mild. Employers must track and record these cases as part of SMMs.
- For incapacitated or unconscious individuals, employers must clear the area of other personnel and administer aid immediately. Employers should call 995 for an emergency ambulance to ferry them to the nearest hospital.
- A follow-up plan must be put in place in the event of a confirmed case. Upon being notified of a confirmed case, employers must adopt the following precautionary measures:
- Immediately vacate and cordon-off the immediate section of the workplace premises where the confirmed case worked. There is no need to vacate the building or the whole floor if there had been no sustained and close contact with the confirmed case; and
- Carry out a thorough cleaning and disinfecting all relevant on-site areas and assets that were exposed to confirmed cases, in accordance to NEA guidelines.
- For worksites with confirmed cases, businesses could be suspended if there are public health grounds.
The tripartite partners further shared that employers must establish a system to implement the above SMMs, to provide a safe working environment and minimise risks of COVID-19 outbreaks. These measures must be implemented in a sustainable manner for as long as necessary.
- Implement a detailed monitoring plan to ensure compliance with Safe Management Measures and timely resolution of outstanding issues.
- Appoint Safe Management Officer(s) (SMO) to assist in the implementation, coordination and monitoring of the system of SMMs at the workplace. For unionised companies, union leaders or WSH officers could be appointed as SMOs. Employers must provide appointed SMOs with adequate instruction, information and supervision as is necessary for them to fulfil their required duties. SMOs are strongly encouraged to receive training. The duties of the Officer(s) include:
- To coordinate implementation of SMMs, including identifying relevant risks, recommending and assisting in implementing measures to mitigate the risks, and communicating the measures to all personnel working in the workplace;
- To conduct inspections and checks, to ensure compliance at all times. Any non-compliance found during the inspections should be reported and documented;
- To remedy non-compliance found during the inspections and checks through immediate action; and
- To keep records of inspections, checks and correction actions, to be made available upon request by a Government Inspector.
Employers may refer to a checklist of SMMs that should be in place for the resumption of business activities, updated as at 18 August 2021.
Photo / 123RF