Friday, 26 February 2021

BEWARE of COVID fatigue and complacency in the workplace

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Employees protecting each other while being productive

South Africans were all relieved when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced recently that the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines had safely arrived in the country. With the second shipment of  Johnson & Johnson vaccines expected for delivery shortly thereafter, Health Minister Zwheli Mkhize announced that the vaccination programme is rapidly gaining momentum. “After months of suffering through lockdowns, social distancing, isolation and sanitising, it is easy to suffer from COVID-fatigue.

The temptation exists to become lax when it comes to implementing health and safety protocols in the workplace. However, it is vital to remain vigilant. 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,” warns Robert Palmer, Head of the Occupational Health Department at Afroteq Advisory - a multi-disciplinary integrated company providing advisory and training services to the built environment sector since 2000. 

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 we have moved through the second wave, South Africa still records on average 1500 new cases more than 200 deaths per day, with almost fifty thousand people who have already succumbed to the virus. Health experts have warned that we could see the third wave at the end of April and predict that a fourth wave could hit the country 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. 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,” he says. A specific area concern to Facility Managers working in the built environment is the health and safety of construction workers. OHS officers agree that labourers not wearing their masks on-site, working in too close proximity to each 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,” Palmer says.more 2/…covid complacency two Confirming this warning, the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed occupations where workers performing mostly routine tasks, such as construction workers and cleaners that have to contend with low wages, job insecurity and a rushed return to work, as medium 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. We all want to rebuild our economy, but we cannot ignore the fact that many employees are dealing with emotional battles after having lost family, friends or loved ones due to the pandemic. The world has paid a high price already, and we owe it to each other to be responsible and make the right decisions to the end. That is what true leadership is all about,” Palmer concludes.

Published in Energy and Environment