Wed, 20 Jan 2021

If there has been one constant in the Covid-19 pandemic, it's been learning to trust trends. The same factors that led to the escalation of cases in China and Italy catalysed flare-ups in other parts of the world, and the same measures that led to the containment of the virus in Taiwan and New Zealand paved the way for other countries to do the same.

Even lockdown, the largest action taken against the coronavirus globally, is based on a timeless trend. After the smallpox outbreak in the 1800's, a British epidemiologist William Farr established that epidemics show a trend of rising and falling in roughly a bell-shaped curve. This curve, known as the epidemic curve, might be more familiar as the one we've been trying to flatten for the most part of 2020. It's been vital to trust this trend and curtail the amount of cases at our peak in order to spare hospitals from being overwhelmed.

As we find ourselves in the 17th week of lockdown in South Africa, the most recent statistics show a slight downward trajectory in cases suggesting that we might have reached our peak. While many employees are still working from home, employers can see this as a sign to slowly start preparing their office spaces for a returning workforce. It might be months, or it might be weeks, but being prepared for an influx in activity will be crucial for employers who want to avoid potential Covid-19 outbreaks.

Looking at another Covid-19 trend as an example, many workplaces, shops and schools have been placed in jeopardy over the last few weeks for being unprepared for returning workers, customers or even students. Official protocol requires any workplace to immediately close up shop and report it to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and their provincial Department of Health if someone on the premise tests positive for the virus.

With the stakes so high, the pressure can be overwhelming for employers to ensure their workplace is a safe space. Take this incident that took place at NOSA Testing Centurion Laboratory on the 20th of July as an example. The Lab Manager at NOSA felt ill and displayed symptoms of Covid-19 such as a dry cough and headache. As per their Covid-19 response plan, the lab manager left work to consult a doctor who prescribed that a test be done on the 21st of July. The following day, the test results came back and confirmed that the lab manager was indeed Covid-19 positive.

As per their workplace plan, immediate steps were taken to place the manager and her colleagues into isolation. On the 23rd of July, swabs were taken of the space that she works in and the test results of the surface swabs were also Covid-19 positive. Although the swabs were taken a full 72 hours after the manager had left the work environment, it was shocking to find that the virus was still active and a risk to employees. Consequently, the entire laboratory was closed and deep cleansed after which the same surfaces were tested again and found to be negative for Covid-19.

This example highlights the importance of environmental monitoring for Covid-19 and the significance of a well-developed workplace plan to prevent the spread of the virus. This type of plan should be a fundamental process in any Risk Management Plan for a work environment.

Fortunately, professional services like those of NOSA can lighten the burden by providing employers with all the solutions to manage their Covid-19 risks efficiently. Employers are, for example, obligated to ensure that workplaces are safe for employees to return to work and NOSA Testing are the only labs in South Africa who offer Covid-19 surface and environmental testing. Additionally, NOSA can assist in confirming a workplace's hand sanitisers meet the required standards of 70% alcohol content.

While offices are still operating virtually, they can also tap into digital resources like webinars that prepare employees to return to their physical premises. NOSA also offers longer webinars for employers and employees who are responsible for health and safety implementation in their workplaces. These courses could give both employees and employers the confidence to tackle any Covid-19 related incident head on.

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