Beware of Covid fatigue and complacency

Beware of Covid fatigue and complacency

South Africans were all relieved when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced recently that the first two batches of Covid-19 vaccines had safely arrived in the country, followed by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s announcement that the vaccination programme is rapidly gaining momentum. But Covid fatigue will probably last for some time to come.

“After months of suffering through lockdowns, social distancing, isolation and sanitising, it is easy to suffer from Covid fatigue. The temptation exists to become lax when it comes to implementing health and safety protocols in the workplace,” warns Robert Palmer, head of the occupational health department at Afroteq Advisory – a multidisciplinary integrated company providing advisory and training services to the built environment sector since 2000.

“However, it is vital to remain vigilant. Until the majority of South Africans have been vaccinated, we cannot afford to think that life and business can return to the way they were before the virus.”

According to Palmer, typical shortcuts taken in the corporate environment include only sanitising or disinfecting obvious “high traffic” areas such as boardroom tables and chairs, but the tendency is to neglect door handles, lift buttons, staircase bannisters and telephones. The improper wearing of masks, forgetting to sanitise hands, the absence of visible sanitisers and failure to enforce adequate social distancing are also frequently encountered when the company conducts its workplace audits.

Even though we have moved through the second wave, South Africa still records new cases and deaths per day, and, sadly, more than 50 000 people have already succumbed to the virus. Health experts have warned that we could see the third wave at the end of April and predict that a fourth wave could hit the country when winter arrives.

“Finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel makes companies believe that we are out of danger. Decision-makers think they can save money by appointing unaccredited, uncertified service providers to deep-clean and sanitise the building or by buying inferior-quality cleaning materials and other personal protective equipment. There should be zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour, which puts profit over the well-being of people. The reality is that Covid is still with us and that it will take several months for the vaccine programme to be rolled out and until the majority of our workforce can be considered safe,” he says.

A specific area of concern to facility managers working in the built environment is the health and safety of construction workers. Occupational health and safety officers agree that labourers not wearing their masks on-site, working in close proximity to each other or being transported in large numbers are cause for grave concern.

“Construction companies face harsh penalties and high fines when their projects run late. They put pressure on their teams and workers fear that they might lose their jobs should they call in ill. By failing to disclose their symptoms to their supervisors and adhering to safety protocols, everybody on site is put at risk,” Palmer says.

Confirming this warning, the World Health Organization listed as medium risk those occupations where workers perform mostly routine tasks, such as construction workers and cleaners who have to contend with low wages, job insecurity and a rushed return to work.

“As health and safety experts, we urge employers to ensure that they continue implementing the correct protocols and pay attention to potential problem areas. Paradoxically, it tends to be the companies that have until now been largely unaffected by Covid that are at the greatest risk of succumbing to complacency,” says Palmer.

“We all want to rebuild our economy, but we cannot ignore the fact that many employees are dealing with emotional battles after having lost family, friends or loved ones due to the pandemic. The world has paid a high price already, and we owe it to each other to be responsible and make the right decisions to the end. That is what true leadership is all about.”

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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