Covid-19: How to keep employees and customers safe

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Covid-19: How to keep employees and customers safe

As South Africa starts with the slow phasing out of the National Lockdown, and companies start to re-open, they are faced with a new challenge – keeping employees and customers safe and healthy.

On Friday, the 1st of May 2020, the South African government lowered the National Lockdown to stage 4, allowing more companies to re-open. But this announcement also came with a clear warning and instructions of what is expected from these companies when opening their doors and resuming operations. Companies are held responsible for ensuring the health and safety of their employees and customers by following strict hygiene practices, safe distance and quantity control and the full set of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) public rules and regulations.

It is imperative that companies play their part in creating a safe and healthy environment, as clear failure to do so could lead to temporary closure, or in certain cases, health claims made against the company.

What then is expected from companies when re-opening, and how exactly can safe environments be created for employees and customers?

Strict hygiene practices

Employers are expected to adhere to strict hygiene practices, ensuring that offices, stores etc. are properly cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis. When re-opening, working environments also have to be cleaned and disinfected before staff is allowed to return to work or stores can re-open their doors. Surfaces that are regularly touched, such as bathroom doors, kitchen surfaces etc. should be disinfected various times throughout the day.

Furthermore, companies have to ensure that they provide sufficient facilities where employees and customers are able to wash or disinfect their hands. Soap, water and paper towels, or hand sanitizer, should always be available. Fabric towels are not allowed.

Educating staff

Knowledge is power. Employers should ensure that employees are educated and informed on how to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and how they can keep themselves safe. Employees should be advised to wash their hands on a regular basis, to cough in a tissue and dispose of it immediately, and they should be given cloth masks that they must wear when close to others and when dealing with customers.

Safe Office Furniture

Employers can further ensure the safety of their staff by providing them with safe office furniture options. Open plan offices should be geared with clusters or cubicles that provide a buffer between employees. This can be done with high screen dividers in cluster desks, or safety Perspex screens placed between the cluster desks. Safety Perspex screens can also be used in boardrooms, or reception areas and counters where staff interacts with customers.

Safe distance regulations

Offices and stores should be arranged in such a way that minimizes contact between employees and/or customers. There should be a 1.5 meter gap between employees and/or customers and the amount of employees and/or customers within a certain area should be kept to a minimum. It is also advised that employees should work in rotating shifts to minimize the amount of staff at the office.

Screening of staff

It is vital that employers ensure the safety of their staff by screening their employees for any symptoms of the Covid-19 virus at the start of each work day. Employees should be screened for a fever, and other symptoms on a daily basis, and employees showing signs of the virus should be sent home for self-isolation. Employees who start to show symptoms at home should immediately notify their employer, and should not be allowed to go to work. If an employee was diagnosed with the Coronavirus, or showed symptoms, their workstation should also be properly cleaned and disinfected. Employees who tested positive for the virus are only allowed to return to work once they are cleared by a medical professional.

Minimum contact payment options

Provide your customers with safe payment options that keep contact to a minimum. Cash payments should be avoided where possible as the virus can live on banknotes. If cash is received, it should be sprayed with a disinfectant before adding it to the cash register. When paying with cards, customers should complete the full process themselves without a staff member touching the machine. Card machines should also be disinfected various times throughout the day, and hand sanitizer should be available at the register for customers to use after they have used a card machine.

Stores should also opt for using contactless payment processes such as Zapper where a payment requires zero contact from the customer and staff member, ensuring optimal safety and health for both participants.

Invest in ecommerce

With customers fearing to leave their homes, or to be around large groups of people, the way we shop will drastically change, and this change could be permanent as customers become accustomed to a new way of shopping. Ecommerce in South Africa is already becoming mainstream, and the current Covid-19 crisis is sure to further enhance and popularize this shopping channel as customers seek a safer shopping environment. It is therefore vital that retailers create an online store to adapt to modern demands. Those who already have a store should also consider further investing in the optimization of their online stores, creating a more favourable shopping experience for their customers.

Ensure safe deliveries

Companies should not only ensure a safe environment at the office or their stores, but also in the homes of their customers, when doing deliveries. Delivery vehicles should be cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis. Delivery staff should also be screened every morning for symptoms of the Coronavirus, and should be sent home when feeling ill. Delivery staff should further be educated on preventative measures, and should wear a mask at all times. Where possible, contact should be avoided with the customer. This can be done by finding new ways of accepting a delivery, such as scanning a QR code as confirmation instead of signing a paper. Drivers and delivery staff should also be equipped with hand sanitizer to disinfect their hands between deliveries.

Ultimately, the Covid-19 virus thrives through contact – contact with people, certain objects and surfaces. Therefore, educating staff on preventive measures, applying strict hygiene practices and drastically minimizing contact between people and surfaces will stop the virus in its tracks and help you create a safe environment for your employees and your customers.

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