Coronavirus (Covid-19) in the Workplace
NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH
Division of the National Health Laboratory Service
Coronaviruses can cause mild (e.g. similar to common cold) to more severe disease (e.g. MERS – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). A new coronavirus disease emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and is called COVID-19.
The World Health Organization (WHO) work closely with world experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on COVID-19 as much still needs to be learnt as the outbreak investigations continue. Timely advice on measures to protect worker’s health and prevent the spread of the outbreak will be provided.
• Person-to-person contact or touching contaminated surfaces
• Likely spread via respiratory droplets within a distance of two meters (2m) through coughing and sneezing
• Incubation period is generally 2-14 days but can be up to 21 days
Shortness of breath
Severe respiratory disease
WORKERS’ RISK, RIGHTS, ROLES, RESPONSIBILITIES
IDENTIFYING POTENTIAL SOURCES
• identify exposure risks for workers and implement appropriate control measures.
• consider if their workers were in contact with COVID-19 suspects while on duty.
• determine if workers could be exposed to areas (e.g. worksites) or materials (e.g. laboratory samples, waste) contaminated with the virus.
• identify sick individuals and screen for signs and symptoms, and/or a history of travel to COVID-19-affected areas.
WORKERS AT RISK OF INFECTION
Although every person may be at risk of exposure to COVID-19, the risk is higher for workers interacting with persons that may be potentially infected. Immunocompromised workers are at higher risk of infection (e.g. pre-existing conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease). High exposure risk group workers include:
– Airline operations (e.g. airline cabin crew, aircraft cleaners, mechanics)
– Boarder control (e.g. security officials, and other boarder officials)
– Health care (e.g. paramedics, nurses, doctors, other medical staff)
– Laboratories (e.g. medical technologists, scientists, laboratory aids and researchers)
– Pathology and funeral services (e.g. mortuary attendants, autopsy technicians and funeral directors)
– Solid waste and wastewater management (e.g. waste pickers, water treatment plant workers)
DO YOU SUSPECT YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO COVID-19
• Alert your supervisor or occupational health clinic immediately.
• If you are experiencing symptoms, inform your healthcare provider about any contacts and recent travel to areas affected by COVID-19.
HOW IS COVID-19 DIAGNOSED?
If your healthcare provider suspects you may have COVID-19, then a laboratory test would be required (nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swabs, sputum, tracheal aspirate). The National Institute for Communicable diseases (NICD) should be contacted for further information. The NICD’s webpage (
www.nicd.ac.za.) provides detailed information and guidelines for collecting, handling, and transporting clinical specimens from patients under investigation (PUI) to their laboratory. Or contact them on the hotlines (public: 080 002 9999) or (healthcare workers: 082 883 9920).
Wash hands regularly using soap and water (~20 sec) or alcohol-based hand rub (~70%) or
Obey health and safety policies and procedures
Remember to cover nose & mouth with a flexed elbow/tissue when coughing & sneezing
Key is to avoid exposure and also refrain from exposing others to potential risks
Ensure to don, doff and dispose of personal protective equipment properly
Report any situation likely to present a potential or serious danger to life or health
Self-monitor for signs of illness and self-isolate or report illness to managers, if it occurs
Workers’ rights include that employers and managers:
• ensure that all preventive and protective measures are taken to minimize risks, including provision of adequate PPE supplies
• provide continuous awareness, education and training of workers on anticipated occupational exposure to COVID-19
• create a culture whereby workers can report freely without being stigmatized
• advise and encourage workers on self-assessment, symptom reporting and staying home when ill
• allow workers to exercise the right to withdraw from work activities, that they have reasonable justification to believe presents a serious danger to their life or health
• Report to the compensation commissioner if work-related
PREVENTION & CONTROL OF WORKPLACE EXPOSURE TO COVID-19
A risk assessment should be conducted in the workplace to determine the RISK of EXPOSURE to COVID-19 and communicated to all workers.
• Every employer must have a workplace plan of action in place for preparedness
• The occupational health or infection control personnel should establish points of contact between the organisation, personnel and local health facility.
• Promote influenza vaccination
• Workers potentially infected with COVID-19 must be isolated immediately
• Restrict number of personnel coming into contact with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases (e.g. business travel, healthcare facilities)
• Established public health reporting procedures should be swiftly followed.
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
• Limit the spread of infectious respiratory secretions by wearing a facemask
• Personnel must wear protective gloves for patient caring and cleaning contaminated surfaces
• Respirators (e.g. N95) are only for aerosol generating procedures (e.g. nebulisers) unless informed otherwise by WHO
• Contact and droplet precautions include wearing clean protective clothing to avoid contamination
ENVIRONMENTAL & ENGINEERING CONTROLS
• Isolation rooms are recommended for COVID-19 (e.g. healthcare facilities)
• Airborne precautions should apply for high risk procedures (e.g. nebulizing, suctioning)
• Alcohol based solutions (70% ethanol) must be used for surface decontamination
• Avoid use of compressed air or water sprays to clean potentially contaminated surfaces, as these may aerosolise infectious materials
• Surface cleaning devices are recommended (e.g. UVGI)