Here’s how your office should be preparing for coronavirus worst-case according to the WHO

Business Insider SA
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
  • As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released guidelines to help businesses prepare their workplaces.
  • When someone coughs or exhales, they release droplets of infected fluid and most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects – such as desks, tables or telephones.
  • There are simple interventions that can reduce the risk of spreading the virus, the WHO says.
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As the novel coronavirus behind Covid-19 continues to spread across the globe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released guidelines to help businesses prepare their workplaces.

The disease has been declared a national emergency in South Africa.

The danger of the virus is that it can spread easily; when an infected person coughs or exhales, they release droplets of infected fluid and most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects - such as desks, tables or telephones.

The coronavirus spreads in a similar way to flu. People could catch it by touching contaminated surfaces or objects, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Likewise, if they are standing within one meter of a person with the disease, they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out, or exhaled.

Most people infected with the virus, first detected in Wuhan, China, experience mild symptoms and recover. However, some go on to experience more serious illness and may require hospital care.

The WHO says the risk of serious illness rises with age, and people over 40 seem to be more vulnerable. People with weakened immune systems, and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart, and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness.

The measures the WHO recommends to make the workplace safer can reduce working days lost due to illness from seasonal flu too – and stop or slow the spread of other diseases.

Here are some simple solutions to make an office environment safer from the spread of diseases such as the novel coronavirus. 

General hygiene

Make sure your workplace is clean and hygienic – including objects like phones and keyboards.

This means cleaning surfaces like desks and tables and objects (like telephones and keyboards) with disinfectant, regularly. The coronavirus appears to easily spread on surfaces touched by employees and customers.

Install hand sanitiser and soap wash stations.

Captonians are already used to waterless hand sanitisers in bathrooms, thanks to several years of drought. Putting such dispensers in prominent places around the workplace is a good practice.

The same can be said for encouraging washing of hands with soap, regularly; the WHO recommends putting up posters to encourage hand-washing and other hygienic practices.  

Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace; wear masks if you are sick.

Offices can ensure that face masks and paper tissues are available at your workplaces. Paper masks may not be the most effective way to protect yourself from catching a disease, but it reduces the spread of a disease if you are infected – even if you just have a common cold.

Offices should provide closed bins for tissues. 

Use closed bins and ensure tissues are disposed of hygienically.

Work from home if you have a runny nose or cough.

The WHO recommends that companies brief employees, contractors and customers that if the coronavirus starts spreading in the community, anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home.

They should also stay home (or work from home) if they have had to take simple medications, such as paracetamol/acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin, which may mask symptoms of infection.

They should also avoid close contact (one meter or closer) with other people, including family members.

Reiterate that employees can take sick leave.

Businesses can make it clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.


Before traveling, make sure you have the latest information on areas where the coronavirus is spreading.

You can find the list here.

Consider issuing employees who are about to travel with small bottles of alcohol-based hand rub. This can facilitate regular hand-washing. 

While traveling, encourage employees to wash their hands regularly and stay at least one meter away from people who are coughing or sneezing.

Employees who have returned from an area where the coronavirus is spreading should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and take their temperature twice a day.

If they develop even a mild cough or low grade fever (i.e. a temperature of 37.3 C or more) they should stay at home and self-isolate. They should also telephone their healthcare provider or the local public health department, giving them details of their recent travel and symptoms.

Prepare for the worst case: coronavirus in the workplace. 

Businesses should develop a plan of what to do if someone becomes ill with suspected coronavirus.

This includes designating an isolated room should an employee show signs of illness, limiting the number of people who have contact with the sick person, and contacting local health authorities.

Promote regular teleworking across your organisation. Health authorities may advise people to avoid public transport and crowded places. Teleworking will help your business keep operating while your employees stay safe.



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See also: Covid-19 update: all quiet at quarantine site The Ranch, with a chance of scattered politics

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