With the easing of circuit-breaker measures in Singapore, employers gearing up for reopening must implement safe management measures to provide a safe working environment for employees. Here is a brief guide for employers in Singapore on things to take note when planning for these measures.
The circuit-breaker measures implemented by the Singapore government in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis will be eased on 2 June 2020. Resumption of businesses will be carried out in phases, with Phase 1 to cover businesses that operate in settings with lower transmission risks, including most manufacturing and production facilities and most businesses with employees working in offices and setting that do not require interactions with large groups of people.
Telecommuting must be adopted to the maximum extent in businesses that reopen. This means those who have been working from home so far should keep doing so, and employees should only return to the workplace where it is demonstrably necessary, for purposes that cannot be carried out via telecommuting; e.g., to access specialised systems/equipment that cannot be accessed from home or to complete a contract or transaction that is legally required to be completed in person and onsite. Employees should be provided the necessary IT equipment and solutions to enable remote working. Internal and external meetings should be conducted virtually where possible.
For employers that are gearing up for reopening, they must ensure the implementation of safe management guidelines to ensure a safe working environment for employees.
First, employers will have to conduct an “essential manpower” registration at the following website https://covid.gobusiness.gov.sg/guides/EssentialManpowerRegistrationGuide.pdf.
They will have to declare the amount of manpower working onsite and on shift or part-time within two weeks of resuming operations. Employers are expected to ensure that their manpower details are updated for the entire duration of the phased resumption of businesses starting from 2 June 2020. Any significant changes to the manpower count which employers had declared earlier should be updated as soon as possible.
Second, employers will have to appoint safe management officer(s) to assist in the implementation of safe management measures. The safe management officer will conduct inspections and checks, ensure compliance, and keep records of inspections and checks.
Third, employers should reduce physical interaction and ensure safe distancing among employees. Employers should stagger working and break hours to reduce possible congregation at common spaces, such as pantries and canteens. Working hours must be staggered into at least three different times, with no more than half the employees working within each block. Employers unable to stagger working hours must find other ways to prevent workers congregating at common spaces, such as arranging for different groups of staff to enter and exit through various doors. Employers should arrange working hours such that employees can avoid travelling on public transport at peak periods and roll out shift or split-team arrangements, with one team restricted to one site. Employees in different teams are not allowed to interact with one another, even away from work. Employers should ensure that workers do not socialise or congregate in groups during meals or breaks and cancel or postpone all social gatherings at workplaces. Employers should continue holding online meetings as far as possible and cancel or postpone events that entail close or prolonged contact, such as conferences, seminars, and exhibitions. Employers should stop all social gatherings outside the workplace and remind members of staff not to engage in these activities.
Fourth, employers should ensure all employees wear masks at the workplace and maintain a safe distance of one metre apart at all times. Employers must also have enough masks for all workers.
Fifth, employers should use the SafeEntry digital check-in and check-out system and refuse entry for those who are unwell. Employers can register for SafeEntry at https://www.safeentry.gov.sg/registrations/new.
Sixth, employers must monitor the health of workers. This should be done through regular checks for temperature and respiratory symptoms onsite twice daily, requiring employees to monitor their health before returning to the workplace if unwell, and preparing an evacuation plan for unwell workers or suspected COVID-19 patients. Employers should prepare a follow-up plan if there is a confirmed COVID-19 patient within the office, such as emptying or cordoning off areas where the employee worked, and thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting exposed areas. Employers should pay special attention to vulnerable workers, such as those who are older, pregnant, or have medical conditions.
It is mandatory for employers to carry out safe management measures. As checks will be conducted by the relevant governmental authorities, employers should develop and implement such prior to reopening and ensure that they are strictly adhered to during this period.
We have also discussed other issues relating to Singapore employment law and workplace measures during COVID-19 in previous LawFlashes:
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