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COVID-19 Alert Level 2 - returning to work and the office
Aotearoa will move to COVID-19 Alert Level 2 at 11.59 pm on Wednesday 13 May.
Businesses resuming work for the first time need to think about how to work differently to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Implementing or maintaining COVID-19 controls remains vital for the health and safety of workers and other people.
Read the government’s guidance on what Alert Level 2 means
Health and safety standards and protocols
Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ) has developed industry health and safety standards and protocols for operating under COVID-19 Alert Levels. View the Alert Level 2 standards and protocols
The protocols have a focus on construction-related activity (be that horizontal, vertical or residential); however, they provide an appropriate framework for any site-based work.
Where staff are returning to the office, the protocols still provide an excellent framework, recognising that not all elements will be directly applicable.
In my opinion, using a consistent framework across your operations will ensure clarity for your staff. Having different sets of rules for different situations is a recipe for confusion.
If you are working in an office-based environment (rather than site-based work) here are a few of the things you should think about.
Doing business safely
- The key public health requirements stay the same at Alert Level 2. Businesses should maintain hygiene measures, including physical distancing, hand washing, and regularly cleaning surfaces
- Businesses are encouraged to use alternative ways of working if possible, though staff can return to the office. This means businesses that don’t usually have customers on their premises could continue to have staff work from home if that makes business sense
- If workers are sick with symptoms of COVID-19, they should stay home
Physical distancing remains critical
Follow these physical distancing rules:
- Keep your distance when out and about (ideally 2 metres)
- One metre from others in most other environments, unless there are mitigation measures
- Take extra care if you interact with people you do not know
This is important to help protect us from COVID-19, which spreads via droplets from coughing and sneezing.
You will need a plan
- Your plan must detail the steps you will take to mitigate the risk presented by COVID-19 in your workplace
- Ensure you communicate your plan to your staff before they start work
Before your staff come to work
Your team should follow the personal health flowchart to confirm they are safe to go to work. Refer to the health flowchart in the protocols
- Understand how your staff will get to work and whether they can maintain physical distancing
- When using a company vehicle, it should be cleaned following the cleaning guide. Refer to the cleaning guide in the protocols
In the office
Under Level 2, your employees can return to the office. Whether this occurs and how you manage that is a decision for your business.
Remember, COVID-19 is still out there, so play it safe.
Maintain a daily register of staff entering and leaving your offices along with a health declaration. See an example sign-in register in the protocols. If you are using an electronic sign in it must be sanitised between each use
Have signage reminding workers of physical distancing and hygiene requirements. See example signage in the protocols
- All work should be done in a way to maintain physical distancing. If you can’t maintain physical distancing, as a general rule, don’t do it
- Keep team sizes as small as possible, and record who is each team. Explore limiting interactions between floors, and the potential for split shifts. This is all about staff reducing exposure
- Be aware and have a plan for pinch points where people may come into close contact (lifts, stairwells, hallways)
- If you have meetings, only have the necessary participants and ensure you maintain physical distancing at all times. Use videoconferencing wherever possible
At Alert Level 2, businesses can have clients on their premises if they can meet public health requirements. This means businesses should:
- Have proper contact registers, or contact tracing records, in place to record everyone who you interact with on your premises
- Maintain physical distancing of 1 metre between staff and clients, or 2 metres if it is not possible to keep contact tracing records
- Not have groups larger than 10 people
- Maintain a 2-hour time limit for customers to be on your premises
Travel and transport
You can travel around the country if you follow proper personal health measures. You will need to keep records of what travel services you use and keep track of who you have been in contact with. You should keep your distance from groups of people you don’t know. You should minimise the number of places you stop on the way to your destination.
- Try to limit taking public transport or use at off-peak times
- Avoid sitting next to someone you don’t know or standing
- If you’re flying or taking other forms of transport that involve bookings, follow the physical distancing instructions from your transport operators
- You must not travel if you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19, awaiting a test, or if you need to self-isolate
Your staff should sanitise their hands with hand sanitiser or soap and running water before coming into the office. Set up a specific place to do this
- Encourage staff to sanitise or wash their hands regularly
- All eating and drinking utensils to be cleaned by the user
- Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands
In general, most workers will not require PPE to stay safe at work. Incorrectly used PPE can create more risk. Proper hygiene measures like handwashing with soap and water, physical distancing, sneeze and cough etiquette, and wiping down surfaces is the best defence against COVID-19.
Consider your work environment and what is frequently used and touched. The virus can be spread from person to person or by touching unclean equipment or surfaces. To stop the spread, focus efforts on cleaning areas where the virus is more likely to spread, such as the kitchen and toilets. You should also reduce the number of shared surfaces, and regularly disinfect them.
Frequent internal touchpoints to be aware of could include:
- Coffee machines and water fountains
- Common pens (such as for a sign-in sheet)
- Doors and door handles
- High-touch public surfaces such as stairwell handrails, door handles, tabletops, lift buttons, microwaves and other kitchen surfaces
- Screens and tables should be wiped after use, as should electronic devices, photocopiers, digital check-in scanners and computers
- Wash items such as towels, tea towels and other fabrics using a hot wash and dry thoroughly outside or with a dryer
For more information, see the cleaning guide in the protocols
Here are some helpful signage downloads that we are using in ACE New Zealand’s Wellington office:
Health entrance poster (PDF 30KB)
Hygiene entrance poster (PDF 45KB)
Response plan (PDF 100KB)
Stairwell going down (jpg 1.1MB)
Stairwell going up (jpg 1.1MB)
- Lift poster maximum 4 occupants (jpg 1.3MB)
This is a simplified list of things you should consider in an office-based environment.
My view is whether you are on a site, or in the office, you should be working in line with the protocols
If we all support and comply with the protocols, we can avoid returning to Alert Levels 3 or 4 and give ourselves the best chance of moving back to Alert Level 1 as soon as possible.