In The Workplace

It appears to me that the authorities have not issued any specific guidelines for companies that may be affected by the pandemic after the lifting of the lockdown. No, we are not talking about financial assistance, but how do we ensure that our workers and managers are protected from the spread of COVID-19 as soon as they report back to work? Could you please help us determine a comprehensive and systematic protocol to ensure the safety and health of our workforce while they’re inside our office and factory? — Fearful Nelly.

On a scale of one to 10 with 10 as the highest, how confident are you after the lifting of the lockdown? Surely, the situation will be different in the next few months and in the years to come. But think of a specific number to help you understand your problem and the rest of the world. Now consider the options. Would it be better to temporarily close the business for several months?

Or would it be better to continue operations subject to strict compliance with health and safety protocols? Or simply maintain a minimal workforce inside the office to support those who are assigned to work from home to keep the business running?

What would make your management confidently increase your number to 10? It’s not easy to guess, without much data. The long list of possible answers (or guesses) makes us realize the obstacles to returning to work. There could be more bad things in store for us, if we are not extra careful in handling workplace situations during the pandemic.

I checked the website of the Occupational Safety and Health Center and found only a generic, 454-page “Occupational Safety and Health Standards” manual amended in 1989. It may not be specific enough to address our COVID-19 questions. Anyway, if you’re looking for “a comprehensive and systematic protocol,” I am advising you to consider the “Action Checklist” of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to help your organization in preventing or mitigating the adverse effects of COVID-19 in the workplace.

The 8-page checklist dated April 9 which you can find at must be done in consultation with key people within your organization, including those in the health and safety committees. While we’re still on lockdown, you may want to confer with your people via Zoom or similar platform. But first, I suggest that you download a copy of the checklist and send it to all your department managers for their initial comment.

The checklist is updated and put together by global experts. It comes in four parts: Policy, planning and organizing; risk assessment, management and communication; prevention and mitigation measures; and arrangements for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases. Here are some general guidelines and my other suggestions:

One, appoint a team of key people to go through the checklist. This includes senior management, department managers, workers’ representatives, and health and safety committee members. It’s best to consult other key stakeholders, including your company physician, nurse, security and administration personnel. If you are not a union establishment, you may appoint two workers from the ranks, who may have displayed leadership skills in the recent past.

Two, send the checklist to those concerned via email. Require them to answer as objectively as possible. Allow them to answer anonymously, if that is what the majority want. Give them a one-day deadline to complete the checklist. Then assign someone to tabulate the results for you to determine the answer of the majority. If there are serious disagreements, consult and resolve the issue with the team.

Three, agree as a team to come up with the best action plan. If necessary, conduct a follow-up video conference to discuss the issues and challenges. In discussing possible solutions, it is best to alert the team members that they must come up with low-cost or practical answers rather than choose expensive answers. After all, we’re facing a slow economy, and this is not the right time for businesses to spend money.

Last, present the group decision for top management approval. Before that, you may want to consult with experts from the Occupational Safety and Health Center, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines on certain issues. You may also want to consult with the representatives of your Health Maintenance Organization for assistance that could be a part of your medical plan for employees.

There’s nothing more convincing than your own action plan done in consultation with experts and people who will execute your plan within the organization. That’s the essence of co-ownership. Unfortunately, not many people and organizations appreciate that. With the current crisis, it’s about time we rediscover empowerment and engagement as our basic approach in people management.

Trust this process, and expect a pleasant awakening. Times have changed with the new normal of doing things, but realize that it might become a “better” normal with the active help of workers. We must learn to close the door of the new normal and open new doors and windows for many opportunities in the horizon.

In other words, make calculated decisions based on the overall health and safety of people working for the organization, and at the same time protect jobs. It will not only keep you out of legal and ethical troubles, but also save you a lot of mental anguish. Have a long-term perspective in whatever you do, instead of doing what’s easy – shedding jobs.

Having peace of mind is the greatest measure of success.

ELBONOMICS: One concrete and specific measure of success is a peace of mind.


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