Preventive measures at work: getting ready to return to the workplace

Written on 25 Jun 2020

The gradual remission of the COVID -19 pandemic, together with the end of the state of alarm, has led many companies –which until now had adopted remote working– to decide to resume face-to-face activity. However, activity at workplaces cannot be carried out under the same conditions as before the pandemic, but must comply with the preventive measures established in this respect by the health and labour authorities.

These preventive measures can be classified into two large groups: generic preventive measures, which are those measures of general application and which do not differentiate between activities or sectors, and specific preventive measures, which include guidelines designed for a specific activity and sector.

With regard to the former, the Ministry of Labour and Social Economy has issued a guide to good practice in workplaces (the "Guide"). The Guide includes the essential preventive measures for before, during and after attending work:

  • Before going to work: employees with symptoms related to COVID-19 should not attend the workplace and should contact the COVID-19 telephone number.
  • At the workplace: Ventilation, cleaning and disinfection measures must be implemented (i.e., making hydro alcoholic gels or disinfectants available to employees for hand cleaning), ensuring that a minimum interpersonal safety distance of 1.5 metres is maintained between employees (and, when this is not possible, placing waterproof barriers between employees) and adopting measures to prevent mass coincidences of people in work centres during the hours when the highest number of people is expected.
  • After going to work: employees must keep interpersonal distance and maintain preventive and hygienic measures at home, especially if they live with people included in health risk groups.

The Guide states that people with symptoms compatible with COVID-19, or who are in home isolation due to a diagnosis of COVID-19, or who are in home quarantine due to close contact with someone with COVID-19, should not attend the workplace.

Also in the field of generic preventive measures, the World Health Organization has published a guide with preventive measures ("Getting your workplace ready for Covid-19") which contains indications for conducting meetings and events, and traveling by employees.

From the standpoint of specific preventive measures, in this regard it is essential to have the advice of the company's occupational risk prevention service. As a specialized service, it is aware of the particularities of the sector and activity of the company, as well as the specific risks. The instructions of the occupational risk prevention service can be complemented with the indications of the employees’ representatives, in order to adopt the most appropriate measures for the activity carried out by the company.

In addition, the National Institute of Safety and Health at Work has drawn up good practice guidelines to prevent the risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19, classified by activity or sector. These guidelines contain a non-exhaustive selection of measures, which must be supplemented by companies according to their characteristics and the results obtained in their risk assessments.

Finally, some companies are using preventive measures such as access control to facilities based on temperature measurement, or even requiring employees to undergo regular viral and antibody tests for COVID-19. These measures may involve the invasion of employees' right to privacy, and it is therefore essential to carry out a detailed analysis of the associated risks, and the various ways of mitigating them, prior to their implementation.

It should also be remembered that none of these measures contradict the preference for remote work, which remains in force until 22 September.