9 common fears as workplaces and schools re-open

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// Australia is getting on top of things. There are less cases of Coronavirus than there were a month ago and we are now starting to lift restrictions, however, fears remain…

Lisa Macqueen is Co-Founder and Director at Cleancorp (cleancorp.com) – a specialist Australian anti-viral cleaning company that has been commissioned by various sectors of society including Australian Government departments, consulates, embassies, multi-national businesses, schools, hospitals, strata companies and construction sites to keep their workplaces and communities as safe as possible during the pandemic.

“June and July will be crucial months for many organisations, as a significant proportion of employees will begin to enter workplaces again. Organisations want to be doing everything they can to minimise the risk of infection in their premises to maximise employee safety,” said Lisa.

Lisa Macqueen

 “If organisations do not demonstrate they are providing a thoroughly clean and highly sanitised environment, they will struggle to win the confidence of their employees as they head back into their premises – and even the willingness of their employees to enter the workplace.”

Lisa reveals the top nine concerns by organisations in relation to the health and safety of their employees, customers, and visitors:

1.       Open plan offices could fester viruses. Many organisations such as PwC have created open plan offices where employees can sit just about anywhere. But a recent study has shown that workers in open plan workplaces have a 62 per cent higher incidence of sick leave than those in private or shared cellular offices.

Open plan offices like this one could fester viruses (Source: Commercial Real Estate)

2.       Cross-contamination between departments. Business decision-makers are also concerned about potential COVID-19 breakouts spreading across the organisation.

To minimise such a risk, Cleancorp uses colour-coded cleaning materials to ensure the same materials are not used between two different sites. For example red cloths are used on sanitary appliances, restroom floor s, toilets, and urinals; yellow for other restroom surfaces, including sinks, door handles, walls, and towel and soap dispensers; green for general food preparatory and bar areas, and so on.

3.       Risk of litigation. The Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) Act requires employers to provide and maintain a work environment that is without risk to the health and safety of their workers, which also includes protection from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 (as far as reasonably practical).

Lisa has found that many employers are concerned about the risk of litigation should an employee become infected while at work – and what the WHS implications for them will be. For the same reasons, they are also worried about customers or visitors becoming infected while on their premises. She says employers have a duty to maintain the workplace and facilities, and one of the best ways to do this is by organising for it to be cleaned regularly and thoroughly.

4.       Compliance with workplace standards. Beyond the WHS Act, many organisations have committed to additional safety standards, such as ISO 45001.

Some organisations have ramped up their cleaning because they need to be able to demonstrate to their auditors that they did everything they could to provide a safe environment for employees during this time. Lisa says these businesses should seek cleaners whose services are ISO certified.

5.       Negative publicity in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19. There is a great deal of social and financial difficulties for organisations linked to a cluster, such as the Ruby Princess, Cedar Meats, or smaller businesses.

There is a real fear that they will be forever ‘marked’ by a positive COVID-19 case in their workplace and will struggle to win back customers.

Cedar Meats was one of the business affected by negative publicity due to a virus cluster (Source: The Age)

6.       Lack of control over risks employees take in their own time. Organisations can do what they can to ensure employees follow health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid, but that means nothing on their days off, when off-work employees may be exposed to the virus.

Businesses could organise a precautionary after-work clean on Mondays, including sanitisation of high-traffic areas, said Lisa. Though time-consuming, these extra measures are what is needed to enable organisations to take an active role in preventing the spread of the virus.

7.       The risk to vulnerable clients and visitors. It is far more likely that the elderly or those with a disability will be severely incapacitated or die from the virus compared to most other people.

NDIS providers have asked for more frequent and substantial cleans due to concerns about their vulnerable communities.

8.       Parents’ lack of confidence in the safety of school grounds. Schools across Australia are re-opening, and in WA it is now compulsory for students to attend school.

Two schools had to be shut down recently in NSW after students tested positive for the virus. These schools – and particularly boarding schools (most of which have shifted to remote learning) – have asked for the highest level clean, mostly to reassure parents.

Lisa says: “Some schools are going ‘above and beyond’ to earn the trust of parents by demonstrating their premises are as low risk as possible.”

Waverly College in NSW was closed when a year 7 student tested positive to the virus (Source: news.com.au)

9.       Demonstrating corporate social responsibility. Many organisations simply want to show that they are not only doing their due diligence but are proactively risk mapping by asking for heavy-duty anti-viral cleans – even if their workplaces are unlikely to have been exposed to COVID-19.

The pandemic is a new ‘stress test’ for organisations actively involved in corporate social responsibility.

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Main image Source: Harvard Gazette