Workplace safety measures to counter the new Covid variant - Hindustan Times
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Workplace safety measures to counter the new Covid variant

ByHindustan Times
Jan 10, 2024 12:53 PM IST

This article is authored by Vikram Vora, medical director, Indian subcontinent, International SOS, New Delhi.

'Just as the world thought that the pandemic had ended and Covid-19 was a thing of the past, a new variant – designated JN.1 - came along as a harsh reminder that humanity’s war with the SARS-CoV2 virus is not over.

In the wake of increasing COVID-19 in the country, along with a large number of patients in the city being reportedly infected with JN.1 sub-variant of Covid-19 the PMC swung into action. (REPRESENTATIVE PIC) PREMIUM
In the wake of increasing COVID-19 in the country, along with a large number of patients in the city being reportedly infected with JN.1 sub-variant of Covid-19 the PMC swung into action. (REPRESENTATIVE PIC)

This new variant, JN.1, represents a serious evolution of the virus, conferring upon it a growth advantage and higher transmissibility. While older variants were just a few mutations away from their predecessors, JN.1 is very unlike the variant it evolved from.

What this means is that the response to it must be adequately mounted, especially at the workplace, where employees spend almost one-third of their working life. So, what can organisations do to mitigate the impact of JN.1 and keep the workforce safe?

First of all, it must be understood by one and all that the evolution of viruses is continuous and while some mutations render viruses weaker, others make them stronger – leading to large-scale infections and consequent drop in employee wellbeing and productivity. Hence, it is extremely important for organisations to be prepared yet agile. A medically-led approach is essential to develop comprehensive response plans for existing and emerging health threats.

I cannot overstate the importance of conducting periodic workplace risk assessments. These are crucial for developing, adapting and implementing corporate pandemic/health emergency response plans to address evolving disease situations.

While at the workplace, employees need to feel secure and protected. Apart from the Covid situation, this year we are also confronted with a continuing decline in air quality across several cities. To this end, reviewing and updating PPE protocols to make higher grade masks (like N95 respirators) and face shields available, not only protects employees but instils a sense of confidence in them. Periodic trainings on correct mask wearing techniques may also be required.

Adjustment in social distancing protocols could be required depending upon the transmissibility of the circulating variant and the work-related situation. Even when workers are in office, encouraging virtual meetings with minimal in room attendance ensures there is no overcrowding of meeting rooms.

To ensure adherence to changes in protocols, employees need to be kept updated with information from credible sources about challenges posed by new variants. Regularly updating staff on the latest developments, viral variant traits and changing symptomatology goes a long way in helping employees to identify early signs of infections, which can in turn, guide the decision to work remotely till symptoms disappear. For example, the symptoms of a JN.1 infection differ from older variants – this time around, a scratchy throat and diarrhoea are more common than before.

All current evidence proves that vaccination continues to work even against JN.1. In India, the booster uptake has been low and there is no better time than now to get up to date with one’s primary and precaution doses.

Testing of all suspected cases is equally important. Encouraging sick employees to get tested and facilitating these tests at the workplace is a good proactive strategy to identify, isolate and treat those who could otherwise be responsible for larger workplace outbreaks.

The power of credible information and communication is immense. There can be no substitute to getting the correct messaging across to employees in a clear, simple and transparent manner in times of uncertainty. Fostering a culture of openness that dispels fears and apprehensions and encourages employees to speak up and participate, cannot be more strongly recommended.

Adapting workplace safety policies and protocols to mitigate the impact of the current as well as newer Covid variants is a goal that all organisations must work towards. By implementing workplace risk assessments and using the results to guide on evolution of safety measures, such as tightening PPE protocols, modifying social distancing guidelines, conducting training programs, encouraging vaccination, enabling access to testing, and communicating effectively. As new variants emerge, staying adaptable remains the key to a resilient workplace.

This article is authored by Vikram Vora, medical director, Indian subcontinent, International SOS, New Delhi.

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