The interim guidelines on workplace prevention and control of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for the private sector has been jointly issued by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on 30 April 2020. This is in accordance with the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) for various government agencies to issue guidelines for the public and other stakeholders (see also 5-step guide for employers). The provisions of the interim guidelines are reproduced below.
The guidelines apply to ALL workplaces, employers and workers in the private sector. The guidelines are intended to assist private institutions that are allowed to operate during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and General Community Quarantine (GCQ) in developing the minimum health protocols and standards in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
B. INCREASE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL RESILIENCE
1. Emphasize to all workers the everyday actions to stay healthy, such as:
- Eat nutritious and well-cooked food;
- Drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol beverages;
- Increase the body’s resistance by having adequate rest and at least 8 hours of sleep; and
- Exercise regularly.
2. Enjoin companies to provide free medicines and vitamins.
3. Provide referral for workers needing counselling or presenting with mental health concerns.
C. REDUCING TRANSMISSION: PRIOR TO ENTRANCE
1. Prior to entrance in buildings or workplaces, all employers and staff must:
- Wear face masks all the times and remove the same only when eating/drinking. Employers shall provide the appropriate face masks for workers. Should cloth masks be used, the washable type shall be worn but additional filter material such as tissue papers inside the masks must be added.
- Accomplish daily the. health symptoms questionnaire and submit to the guard or designated safety officer prior to entry.
- Have their temperature checked and recorded in the health symptoms questionnaire.
- For any personnel with temperature >37.5%, even after a 5-minute rest, or if their response in the questionnaire needs further evaluation by the clinic staff, the person shall be isolated in an area identified by the company and not allowed to enter the premises. The isolation area should be well-ventilated and must be disinfected frequently.
- Clinic staff assigned to assess the workers held in the isolation area shall be provided the appropriate medical grade PPEs by the establishment which shall include but not limited to, face masks, goggles/face shields, and/or gloves; and
- Spray alcohol sanitizers to both hands, and provide disinfectant foot baths at the entrance if practicable.
2. Equipment or vehicle entering the hub operational area must go through a disinfection process.
3. If there will be a long queue outside the office or store premises, roving officers should instill physical distancing of one meter.
D. REDUCING TRANSMISSION: INSIDE THE WORKPLACE
1. All work areas and frequently handle objects such as door knobs and handles, shall be cleaned and disinfected regularly, at least once every 2 hours.
2. All washrooms and toilets shall have sufficient clean water and soap. Workers are encouraged to wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
3. Sanitizers shall be made available in corridors, conference areas, eleveators, stairways and areas where workers pass.
4. Workers, whether in office workstations or in operations area, shall always practice physical distancing, meaning at the minimum 1 meter radius space (side, back and front) between workers.
5. Eating in communal areas is discouraged. It is best to eat in individual work area and all wastes shall be disposed properly. If eating in work areas is not possible, the employer shall ensure that physical distancing is maintained in dining areas with one worker per table and 1 meter distance per worker. It is discouraged that workers engage in conversation with masks off during the meal times. Tables and chairs shall be cleaned or disinfected after every use of the area, and before as well as at the end of the work day.
6. Canteens and kitchens should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
E. REDUCING TRANSMISSION: MINIMIZE CONTACT RATE
1. Alternative work arrangements, such as working-hour shifts, work from home (WFH), where feasible and on rotation basis.
2. Prolonged face-to-face interaction between workers and with clients are discouraged and masks shall be worn at all times and not removed. Meetings needing physical presence shall be kept to a minimum number of participants and with short durations. Videoconferencing shall be utilized for lengthy discussions among workers.
3. Office tables should be arranged in order to maintain proper physical distancing. Barriers may be provided between tables.
4. Workstations layout should be designed to allow for unidirectional movement in aisles, corridors or walkways.
5. To maintain physical distancing, number of people inside an enclosed space such as a room, store or hall shall be limited. Elevator use should consider physical distancing and limit the number of persons in order to observe the 1-meter physical distancing.
6. Use of stairs should be encouraged subject to physical distancing requirements. If more than 2 stairways are accessible, one stairway may be used exclusively for going up and another for going down.
7. Online system shall be highly encouraged to be utilized for clients needing assistance from offices including the use of videoconferencing.
8. Roving officers shall always ensure physical distancing and observance of minimum health protocols.
F. REDUCING INFECTION RISK
1. In the event that a worker is suspected as having COVID-19:
a. The worker shall immediately proceed to the isolation area designated in the workplace and never remove his/her mask.
b. Clinic personnel attending to the workers should wear appropriate PPEs and if needed should require the transport of the affected worker to the nearest hospital. Company protocols for transport for suspect COVID-19 cases and for PCR testing, should be in place including providing for ambulance conduction. Hospitals will report to the DOH for COVID-19 suspect.
c. Decontamination of workplace:
- (i) workplace shall be decontaminated with appropriate disinfectants (e.g., chlorine bleaching solution and 1:100 phenol based disinfectant).
- (ii) After decontamination of the work area, work can resume after 24 hours.
- (iii) 14 days home quarantine with specific instructions from the clinic staff on monitoring of symptoms and possible next stems. If suspect COVID-19 worker has negative result, co-workers may be allowed to report back to work.
2. In the event that a worker is sick or has fever but is not suspected to have COVID-19 (ex., urinary infection, wound infection or any diseases not related to lungs or respiratory tract) the employer must advise the worker to take prudent measures to limit the spread of communicable disease, as follows:
- (i) Stay at home and keep away from work or crowds.
- (ii) Take adequate rest and take plenty of fluids.
- (iii) Practice personal hygiene to prevent spread of disease.
- (iv) Seek appropriate medical care if there is persistent fever, difficulty of breathing has started, or when he/she becomes weak.
G. DUTIES OF EMPLOYERS AND WORKERS
- i. Provide the necessary company policies for the prevention and control of COVID-19 in consultation with workers. Advocacy and IEC programs should be taken from DOH, WHO and reliable sources of information on COVID-19.
- ii. Provide resources and materials needed to keep the workers healthy and the workspace safe, e.g., masks, soap, sanitizer, disinfectant, PPEs, including COVID-19 testing kits.
- iii. Designate the safety officer to monitor COVID-19 prevention and control measures such as physical distancing, wearing of masks, regular disinfection, compliance to thermal scanning and accomplishing health symptoms questionnaire.
- iv. Enhance health insurance provision for workers.
- v. Where feasible, provide shuttle service and/or decent accommodation on near-site location to lessen travel and people movement.
- vi. Enjoin the hiring from the local community.
- vii. Put up a COVID-19 Hotline and Call Center for employees to report if symptomatic, and daily monitoring scheme of our “suspect” employee condition.
- i. Comply with all workplace measures in place for the prevention and control of COVID-19, such as frequent hand washing, wearing of masks, observe physical distancing always, etc.
- ii. Observe proper respiratory etiquette.
- iii. Coughing and sneezing into tissue or into shirt sleeve if tissue is not available.
- iv. Disposing used tissues properly.
- v. Disinfecting hands immediately through proper washing with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer immediately after a cough or sneeze.
H. WORKPLACE WITH IMMINENT DANGER SITUATIONS
In workplaces where workers are evidently at risk of infection as in health-care and other frontline services, the employer shall comply with DOH Department Memorandum No. 2020-0178: Interim Guidelines on Health Care Provider Networks during the COVID-19 Pandemic, 11 April 2020.
Workers in said workplaces must take precautionary measures which include strict hygiene and the use fo personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers shall ensure that PPE (e.g., respirators such as N95, gowns, gloves) is properly work by the workers while at work and disposed of accordingly after use.
I. MOST AT RISK AND VULNERABLE GROUPS
Most at risk workers are those above 60 years old, or of any age with co-morbidities or pre-existing illness, i.e., hypertension, diabetes, cancer, or with immunocompromised health status; or with high risk pregnancy.
Employers are highly encouraged to allow these workers to do work from home arrangement. Work Agreements should be developed to detail the deliverables from these employees and there shall be no diminution in wages or benefits.
J. COVID TESTING
Employers may test workers for COVID-19. Testing kits used and procured shall be the responsibility of the employer. DOH Protocols shall be followed for the testing of workers and interpretation of results in accordance with DOH Department Memorandum No. 2020-0180: Revised Interim Guidelines on Expanded Testing for COVID-19, 16 April 2020 and DOH Administrative Order No. 2020-0014: Guidelines in Securing a License to Operate a COVID-19 Testing Laboratory in the Philippines, 07 April 2020. Company policy on COVID-19 testing shall be formulated and agreed upon by employers and workers in conformity with the DOH protocols.
Workers with a negative test shall continue to work. They should be given appropriate advise and instructions once they develop any health complaints or symptoms. The company OSH personnel shall continue to monitor all workers.