AFTER months of lockdowns, social distancing and sanitising, it is easy to suffer from COVID fatigue and tempting to become lax when it comes to implementing health and safety protocols in the workplace. However, it is vital to remain vigilant.
That’s according to Robert Palmer, Head of the Occupational Health Department at Afroteq Advisory, who warned that until the majority of South Africans have been vaccinated, “we cannot afford to think that life and business can resume to the way it was before the virus”.
According to Palmer, typical short-cuts taken in the corporate environment include only sanitising or disinfecting obvious “high traffic” areas such as boardroom tables and chairs, but neglecting door handles, lift buttons, staircase bannisters, telephones etc.
The improper wearing of masks, forgetting to sanitise hands, the absence of visible sanitisers and failure to enforce adequate social distancing are also frequently encountered when the company conducts their workplace audits.
Even though South Africa has moved through the second wave, the country still records on average 1500 new cases and more than 200 deaths per day, with almost 50 000 people having already succumbed to the virus. Health experts have warned of a possible third wave at the end of April, with some predicting that a fourth wave could hit when winter arrives.
“Finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel makes companies believe that we are out of danger. Decision-makers think they can save money by appointing unaccredited, uncertified service providers to deep-clean and sanitise the building or by purchasing inferior quality cleaning materials and other PPE,” Palmer said.
“There should be zero-tolerance for this kind of behaviour that puts profit over the well-being of people. The reality is that COVID is still with us and that it will take several months for the vaccine programme to be rolled out and until the majority of our workforce can be considered safe.”
A specific area concern to facility managers working in the built environment is the health and safety of construction workers. Palmer said Occupational Health and Safety officers agree that labourers not wearing their masks on-site, working too close to one other or being transported in large numbers are cause for grave concern.
“Construction companies face harsh penalties and high fines when their projects run late. They put pressure on their teams and workers fear that they might lose their jobs should they call in ill. By failing to disclose their symptoms to their supervisors and adhering to safety protocols, everybody on-site is put at risk.
“As health and safety experts, we urge employers to ensure that they continue implementing the correct protocols and pay attention to potential problem areas. Paradoxically, it tends to be the companies that have until now been largely unaffected by COVID that are at the greatest risk of succumbing to complacency.”