COVID-19 and Its Impact On Businesses
COVID-19 has had an extensive impact across the world, and Singapore is no exception. Businesses in multiple sectors were forced to severely limit or close entirely for several months, and are only now beginning to open their doors again in a safe, controlled manner.
Domestic travel and transit restrictions across the country, as well as safe distancing and stay-at-home notices as part of the Circuit Breaker measures, made most standard working practices impractical. Only establishments offering essential services, such as healthcare, banking, food, and utilities, were allowed to operate from their own premises, with strict safe management measures for employees in place.
Singapore followed the lead of other nations in an attempt to curb the economic impact of the virus by implementing a phased reopening plan. The aim of this plan was to safely reopen the economy, whilst promoting health and occupational safety.
The first phase of these measures began in June, with the ‘Safe Reopening’ phase. This allowed for the reopening of most businesses, as well as manufacturing companies and a small percentage of construction sites, with strict health protocols in place, including masks and social distancing.
After the implementation of phase one, data from the Ministry of Health (MOH) showed stable community COVID-19 infection rates and no emerging large clusters, so this was followed by the ‘Safe Transition’ phase, where more businesses, such as dine-in restaurants and department stores, were allowed to reopen, accompanied by the expansion of the government’s testing and tracing activities.
Singapore will at some point enter phase three, or the ‘Safe Nation’ phase, which will last until an effective vaccine or treatment is developed. Until then, businesses are expected to reopen safely and adapt to the ‘new normal’. Business owners, as well as health and safety managers, must continue to be responsible for their employees’ work safety and health.
Adapting the Workplace for Safety and Resilience
Reassuring employees and the public is a viral part of reopening safely and efficiently. People need to feel comfortable that effective measures have been put in place. With hospitals actively treating COVID cases alongside the usual flow of patients, it is a social responsibility for business owners to establish work safety as a holistic measure.
Fundamental COVID-19 prevention measures, which should be established include:
- Reviewing floor layout to ensure 1-meter distance between employees
- Requiring face masks to be worn at all times except when eating and drinking
- Making relevant PPE available to employees performing high-risk jobs
- Ensuring shared facilities such as pantries, kitchens, and meeting rooms are restricted to reduce employee interaction
Though COVID-19 has introduced multiple new safety and hygiene considerations, managers and stakeholders must be careful not overlook fundamental safety concerns. Common work hazards such as falls from heights, structure collapse, and machinery misuse remain a threat.
Since worksites were reopened, two construction workers have died due to injury from a forklift, and falling to the ground while standing on a parapet wall. These unfortunate incidents highlight the importance of maintaining fundamental safety even in the midst of COVID-19.
In an attempt to combat both the new threats posed by COVID-19, as well as these fundamental dangers, the government is requiring businesses to develop systems to facilitate this transition for employees and relevant stakeholders, and support the government agencies in ensuring health and occupational safety.
Remember: Kee Safety Singapore offers free site safety surveys for rooftops, and inside factories and warehouses, to help you ensure workers are kept safe and minimize accidents. This peace of mind can free you up to take care of the new threats posed by COVID-19.
Government-Mandated Requirements for a Safe Return to Work
Businesses planning to resume operations must first conduct a manpower declaration and complete a compliance checklist, required by the Ministry of Manpower and Enterprise Singapore. Some of the requirements are as follows:
- Appointing a Safe Management Officer(s) to assist in the implementation of health and safety protocols by conducting checks, ensuring compliance, and maintaining records.
- Minimize physical interactions in the workplace by continuing a work from home policy where possible. Employees may be allowed to be deployed on-site only when necessary to access specialized terminals or dedicated machines or to process a transaction or contract that is required by law to be completed in person and onsite.
- Cleaning of common spaces such as pantries, canteens, and meeting rooms on a regular basis.
- All on-site employees must always wear masks, except when eating and drinking, as well as visitors, suppliers, and contractors.
Government agencies including the Ministry of Manpower, Building and Construction Authority (BCA), and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) will strictly enforce these measures. They can even issue stop-work orders and financial penalties for businesses that are non-compliant.
Additional Safety Considerations for Risk-Free Business Resumption
The exact process for reopening safely will depend on your industry. If you are responsible for the safe reopening of your business or site as a stakeholder or manager you should assess the risk level of your industry, and take industry-specific safety guidelines into consideration.
For example, the construction sector, which was reopened in a staged fashion from June 2nd, must follow these guidelines, which include:
- Requiring all employees to download contact-tracing app TraceTogether when companies apply to resume work. Employers must track the daily health status of workers, and manage workers’ social interactions on rest days.
- The main contractor or workplace occupier must use the national digital check-in system SafeEntry (NRIC version) to record all entries and exits.
- Enforcing strict safe management measures on-site to prevent major outbreaks. This can mean:
- Segregating workers by teams based on accommodation and task
- Staggering breaks and organizing work at different work zones
- Appointing Safe Management Officers (SMOs) and/or Safe Distancing Officers (SDOs)
- Cohorting of workers by projects at their places of accommodation and providing dedicated transport between work sites and accommodation if workers are not residing onsite.
Across every industry, employees returning to work must be reviewed as part of a Return to Work plan. If workers need to be protected with specialized equipment and technology, this must be provided by employers. Deployment of employees should be prioritized based on health status, risk factors, and nature of work. Employees can also voluntarily decline the assignment.
Return-to-Work Planning in the New Normal
Safety training for employees is more important than ever, and can reinforce the importance of workplace safety and health guidelines, allowing employees to clearly see their role in making the work environment safe.
Making it simple for employees to adapt to the new ways of working is essential for business recovery, and the transition to the ‘new normal’ in construction and beyond will require the participation and cooperation of the private sector.
When in doubt, you should always refer to the government’s workplace safety and health guidelines and COVID-related regulations. By following these guidelines, both employees and employers can more easily adapt, and aid the government’s initiatives to manage the outbreak and keep everyone safe.
Workplace safety remains as important as ever. To discuss how Kee Safety Singapore may be able to help you with a site survey, or via our range of protective systems and equipment, please call +65 6385 4166, or visit our contact page.