Concerning new research has revealed that, as employees in most states and territories head back to the workplace, a third (33 per cent) of employees admit their organisation has not shared with them a Covid-19 risk management plan to minimise the spread of infection.
A survey by Cleancorp found that small businesses are less likely to have a policy to minimise the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace. More than half (53 per cent) of employees in micro-businesses (up to 15 employees) and 33 per cent in small businesses (15-50 employees) have not received such a policy. This compares with just 24 per cent of those in organisations with more than 50 employees who have not received a policy.
Those working in the construction and media and entertainment industry are also least equipped to re-enter their workplace: 43 per cent of respondents in the building industry, and 40 per cent in the media and entertainment industry admit their employer has not given them a Covid-19 risk management plan, compared with just 27 per cent of respondents in professional, scientific and technical services, and 20 per cent in healthcare.
Workplace infection risks Aussies are most concerned about
Before Australia went into its first lockdown, co-working spaces were rapidly growing, with research from March 2020 showing their numbers were projected to increase 50 per cent globally by 2024.
However, the pandemic has ignited fears that open plan offices may no longer be viable. In fact, the Cleancorp survey found nearly one in two (47 per cent) Aussie workers are worried that the use of shared workspaces―such as co-working spaces, hot desks, and meeting rooms―could carry an increased risk of infection. A similar proportion (47 per cent) admitted they are worried about being around colleagues who might have been exposed to the risk of infection during the evening or on the weekend.
Cleancorp also found that 46 per cent of Aussie workers are worried about using shared ‘touchpoints,’ such as security buttons or door handles―the greater number of staff in the workplace and the more touchpoints, the most concerned employees are. A third (33 per cent) of those working in micro-businesses (up to 15 employees) are concerned about transmission via shared touchpoints, compared with 49 per cent in organisations with 15-plus employees. More Aussies (56 per cent) working in organisations with 1,000-plus employees are concerned about shared touchpoints.
Safe Work Australia has strongly advised organisations ensure their employees keep a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from each other and limit employee numbers in elevators. Despite this, the survey found an equal two in five (39 per cent) respondents are worried about the risks of working in an enclosed office space with other people all day, and the risks of interacting with visitors in the workplace such as customers or couriers.
Thirty-six (36) per cent are worried about shared items such as kitchen utensils, bathroom toiletries, and pens, a third (33 per cent) are concerned about transmission risks on public transport, and 28 per cent about how best to manage appropriate spacing in elevators, stairwells and corridors.
What would make Aussies feel safer about returning to the workplace?
When asked to reveal what factors would make them feel safer going back to the workplace, one in two (50 per cent) workers believe their management should mandate that anyone with the slightest Covid-19 symptoms―such as a dry cough or tiredness―does not enter the workplace.
The quality of workplace cleaning appears to be another significant factor that would make employees feel safer in their work premises. Forty-nine (49) per cent of respondents say their workplace cleaners should conduct anti-viral cleans, not just regular cleans.
In fact, 52 per cent of respondents over the age of 50―those at greater risk of serious illness if they are infected with coronavirus―admit this is required for them to feel safer in their workplace, compared with 44 per cent of under-30s. Forty-eight (48) per cent of respondents want more frequent professional cleaning of the workplace.
Other factors that respondents said would make them feel safer in the workplace include having their own bottle of hand sanitiser (chosen by 46 per cent of respondents), having more flexibility around remote working arrangements (43 per cent), the availability of face masks (31 per cent), and more regular and open communication from their CEO or managers on how the organisation is managing the virus (28 per cent).
Lisa Macqueen, co-founder and director at Cleancorp, says that its research reveals that, since the pandemic, Aussie workers have become worried about sharing their workplaces with others and using shared touchpoints.
“If organisations want to ensure a successful transition back to the office, they should communicate to their employees everything they have done to maximise their safety at work,” she explains.
“Creating a Covid-19 risk management plan that assesses and determines the reuse of co-working spaces, addresses the four-square metre rule, and incorporates professional commercial cleaning―especially if they didn’t have such a service alreadyare all extremely important.
“The importance of cleaning all shared surfaces and high-traffic areas―from door handles to remotes, and coffee machines―should not be underestimated. If organisations do not upgrade their regular cleaning practices to meet the new risk environment, they could open themselves up to the risk of infection, which could ultimately lead to Work Cover claims, negative publicity and other significant financial costs,” she adds.