Most workplaces resume operations in Nigeria Monday, May 4, 2020.

Post-lockdown: 10 legal factors to consider as workplaces reopen for business

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

After weeks of stay-at-home directives, it’s a reality that it will never be ‘business as usual’ as the COVID-19 full nationwide lockdowns ease off for workplaces to resume ‘guided’ operations in Nigeria Monday, May 4, 2020.

Employers will have to take various steps to comply with governmental authorities’ directives and protect their employees as the normal operations are allowed to resume.

Remember, all operations, either during lockdown or while ramping up and increasing capacity, must comply with the supplementary conditions relating to a programme for screening and testing, quarantine facilities, data collection and submission and transport arrangements in major cities around the country.

Below are 10 imperative legal factors to consider when employees return to work after lockdown, as pieced together at miningreview.com.

1. Ongoing testing is mandatory. Obligations to test for, quarantine, isolate and treat COVID-19 will remain in place.

Employers should ensure that workplace systems enable compliance with these obligations and should not prevent or hinder employees from complying if they become, or are suspected to be ill in line with the directions of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

2. Obey governmental instructions and guidelines. Based on a risk assessment, employers must determine the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for employees.

Employees must be trained to use the PPE, bearing in mind that some PPE, such as hand gloves and nose masks may increase employees’ risks, if not managed appropriately.

Employers could draw on guidance from legislation such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which indicates that where there is a risk of droplet spread, PPE must be provided if persons may come within 3 metres of one another.

Employees should be issued with N95 nose masks. Employers are encouraged to conduct detailed risk assessments, including considerations of availability, hygiene, protection and other workplace-specific issues such as ergonomic safety and practicality, to determine the best protection possible for employees.

Key risk areas and guidelines for risk mitigation action include reducing densities in areas where employees may congregate or be in close quarters. When necessary, provide PPE.

Also, there must be clear procedures in place to deal with employees who have or display symptoms of COVID-19, particularly when these develop during a shift.

3. Consider the risks of employees that were away from the workplace. Employers should consider whether to conduct full medical fitness assessments and, if so, how they can be done safely.

Will employees undergo full induction training in view of the health and safety guidelines? If so, how will this be managed in light of the social distancing and hygiene requirements?

Are there other factors that may have impacted employee readiness to return to work safely while employees were away? This could include keeping up with chronic medication, proper nutrition, emotional stress and distraction, etc.

4. Evaluate and update existing risk assessments and work procedures. Existing risk assessments, procedures and systems must be updated to cater for the new impacts and management of novel COVID-19.

This will include changes to systems such as training (material and how it is provided), waiting place procedures and first aid, amongst others. Most systems will be affected to some degree by measures required to manage Coronavirus pandemic.

5. Consider additional environmental impacts.
How will healthcare waste generated during and after the lockdown be classified and managed or disposed of?

Consider all waste management obligations, protocols and norms and standards which will need to be applied.

Will any medical equipment installed on site need to be licensed or permitted? Post-lockdown sanitation and sterilisation protocols may require additional products and chemicals to be used, stored and handled at workplaces.

This requires reviewing supply chain readiness and potentially licensing dangerous goods/substances storage and handling in offices.

There needs to be increased consideration of water and sewage treatment processes, installations and protocols, as well as associated training requirements.

6. Determine what fresh measures need to be implemented. Entirely new systems and protocols must be adopted, implemented and maintained.

These may include isolation protocols, changes to access control and changes to employees’ transport systems.

If the new hygiene and physical or social distancing measures impact how the work is usually done, further risk assessments and training may be required.

It may be necessary to consider the longer-term impact of the control measures to deal with COVID-19 and guard against any unintended negative consequences or additional risks unwittingly created.

7. Consider the status of all rights and permits. Have all requisite reports (and applications for renewal) been timeously submitted to the management?

Are the current approved work programmes and social and labour plans still accurate or do they require amendment? Will operations be downscaled or resume as they were prior to the lockdown period?

8. Avail everyone of credible information. New communication systems and topics may be required. Clear, consistent and reliable information will help to keep employees safe.

Employers could consider hotlines to give advice to concerned employees. Keeping track of potential “fake news” and dealing with it swiftly is also advisable.

9. Keep thinking ahead. It is important to have plans in place to mitigate the risks of the “what ifs”, too. Have a clear emergency plan in case there is a confirmed positive COVID-19 diagnosis in the workplace.

10. Be aware of employers’ legal liability. Transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace is not necessarily occupationally acquired and employee compensation legislation may not automatically apply.

Employers who fail to take reasonable measures to protect employees may face damages claims.

Employers of labour should take reasonably practicable measures to address and control the risk to employees’ health at workplaces.

It is a statutory offence where the negligence of the employers leads to the serious illness of an employee.

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