The Department of Trade and Industry, or DTI, and the Department of Labor and Employment, or DOLE, have jointly issued the Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19, dated 30 April 2020. The Interim Guidelines were issued upon the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
In this article, we provide a concise summary of the Interim Guidelines to help startups and SMEs in the private sector in the Philippines to develop health standards and policies for their workplaces.
You can also check out our COVID-19 Information Resource for other COVID-19 updates and insights regarding accounting, bookkeeping and tax compliance in the Philippines.
What is the origin of the Interim Guidelines?
In light of the Philippine government’s imposition of the Enhanced Community Quarantine and the General Community Quarantine, the IATF-EID recommended that government agencies issue guidelines to provide policy directions for the public to help support compliance with government quarantine measures.
What is the purpose of the Interim Guidelines?
The Interim Guidelines have been issued to help private institutions that are allowed to operate during the ECQ and GCQ, to develop minimum health protocols and standards in work areas, offices and buildings in light of COVID-19.
How do the Interim Guidelines apply?
The Interim Guidelines apply to all workplaces, workers and employers in the private sector in the Philippines.
What kind of workplace safety and health standards are included?
The Interim Guidelines provide for four key areas of concern, as outlined and summarised below. This is aligned with the objectives of the minimum health standards of the Department of Health, or DOH.
A. Increasing workers’ physical and mental health
- All workers should be encouraged to stay healthy by eating nutritious food, drinking fluids, avoiding alcohol, rest, sleep and exercise.
- Employers are also encouraged to provide workers with medicines and vitamins as well as a referral service for workers with mental health concerns.
B. Preventing virus transmission inside and outside business locations
Before entering the premises:
- Employers and workers must wear protective face masks at all times.
- Vehicles and equipment should be disinfected.
- Physical distancing must be observed in long queues outside the premises.
- All must sanitize both hands with alcohol upon entering and use disinfectant foot baths where possible.
- The daily heath symptoms questionnaire is to be completed and submitted to the designated safety officer of the company.
- Everyone must undergo thermal scanning and the temperatures should be recorded in the health symptoms questionnaire. The Interim Guidelines provide for circumstances where body temperatures are > 37.5°C.
Inside the premises:
- All work areas, door knobs and handles should be disinfected at least every two hours.
- Toilets and washrooms should have clean water supply and soap.
- Sanitizers should be provided in corridors, conference areas, elevators, staircases, and other communal spaces. Canteens and kitchens should be disinfected regularly.
- Workers are encouraged to wash their hands regularly.
- Workers should practice physical distancing.
- Workers are advised not to eat in communal areas. If not possible, physical distancing should be maintained in dining areas.
C. Minimizing physical contact
- Alternative work arrangements restricting the number of workers in a space at a time is encouraged.
- Interaction between workers and clients is to be limited. Meetings should require a minimum number of participants. Videoconferencing is encouraged.
- Work areas, offices and/or tables should be set up to enable distancing.
- Physical distancing is to be practiced especially in communal spaces like elevators. If more than 2 staircases are accessible, one may be used for going up and the other for going down.
- Online systems should be used for supporting work practices as much as possible.
- Roving officers are to be assigned to ensure policies are implemented within their area of responsibility.
D. Reducing the risk of infection
If a worker is suspected of having COVID-19:
- The worker should immediately proceed to an isolation area set by the company and ensure the wearing of masks. Clinic staff assigned to the isolation area should call for the transport of the affected worker to the nearest hospital.
- Companies should have protocols in place for the transport of suspected COVID-19 cases.
- Decontaminate the premises immediately. The Interim Guidelines provide for measures that should be taken. Work can then resume after 24 hours from decontamination. Workers present in the work area with the affected worker should go on 14 days home quarantine. They are to be given instructions by the clinic staff on monitoring the symptoms. If the suspected COVID-19 worker receives a negative test result, co-workers may report back to work.
- If a worker is sick, but is not suspected of having COVID-19, they should take appropriate measures for health recovery, to include seeking medical care.
What are the duties of Employers and Workers under the Interim Guidelines?
- Impose company policies for the prevention and control of COVID-19, relying on guidance from reputable agencies such as the DOH and the WHO.
- Provide soaps, masks, alcohols, disinfectants, PPEs and other resources and materials for the safety and health of the workers in the workplace.
- Designate a safety officer to monitor the implementation of COVID-19 company policies (i.e. wearing of masks, distancing, thermal scanning, etc).
- Enhance health insurance provision for workers.
- Provide transport services or accommodation for workers to reduce travel movement, if possible.
- Hire from the local community, if necessary.
- Put in place a COVID-19 Hotline and Call Center.
- Comply with all workplace measures for the prevention and control of COVID-19.
- Observe proper respiratory etiquette.
- Cough or sneeze into tissue or into shirt sleeve, if tissue is unavailable.
- Dispose used tissues and sanitary products properly.
- Wash hands with soap and water or apply sanitizer immediately after a cough or sneeze.
What about health service workers and other frontline workers?
For workers in the medical/health field and related frontline services, employers must comply with the DOH Department Memorandum No. 2020-0178: Interim Guidelines on Health Care Provider Networks during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This Memorandum provides that workers in such workplaces must take extra precautionary measures including the use of appropriate PPEs and strict hygiene habits.
Employers may test workers for COVID-19. Testing kits should be the responsibility of the employer. In doing such, the testing, interpretation of results and the company policy should adhere to the DOH Protocols. Workers with a negative test result should be allowed to report back to work.
At Risk Workers and Vulnerable Groups
People aged above 60 years, or pregnant, or those with health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer or weakened immune system are considered most at risk of COVID-19. Employers are highly encouraged to allow workers with any one of these conditions to work from home without reducing wages or benefits.
Reporting of Illness/Disease/Injuries
In the event a worker suffers from illness, disease, or injuries, the employer should report the incident to DOLE’s Regional Office through completion and submission of the DOLE Work Accident/Illness Report Form.
Protocol for screening employees and visitors
The Interim Guidelines include an Annex that provides for a “Sample Protocol for Screening Employees and Visitors”. This Annex also includes a template Visitor’s Health Checklist. Check out the Annex and Protocol HERE.
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