- The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many organisations to change the way that they work, for health and safety reasons.
- Dental practices should address the effects of the coronavirus pandemic through their risk assessment process.
- As the effects of the pandemic are set to be with us for a substantial time, it is now important to ensure that COVID-19 safety measures are included in your health and safety policy.
- Changes to the health and safety policy to incorporate COVID-19 need to be communicated to all staff.
Health and safety starts with the health and safety policy. This is translated into risk assessments and training that influence our actions and behaviours, and these in turn are modified and improved through the audit process, which feeds back into the policy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many organisations to change the way they work. In the short term, many organisations have addressed the effects of the coronavirus pandemic through their risk assessment process. As the effects of the pandemic are set to be with us for a substantial time, it is now important to ensure that these are included in your health and safety policy. For dental practices, this can be achieved effectively by including a new COVID-19 policy in the health and safety policy document. This needs to be communicated to all staff.
As you start to look at your health and safety policy, the need for changes and additions relating to COVID-19 should become evident. Some of the changes might include:
- social distancing
- increased working from home
- staggered start and end times for the day
- a more rigorous cleaning regime for the premises
- increased reliance on hand washing and hand sanitisation
- the use of face coverings
- training, instruction, monitoring and enforcement.
Social distancing is not merely about people keeping two metres apart from other people; it also includes fundamental changes to the way the practice operates so that social distancing can be achieved. This includes, for example, controlling the number of people attending the site at any one time; movement of people through the premises and the potential for one-way systems; and mitigation measures that may be required when social distancing is compromised. These issues are so enmeshed in how practice works that they cannot be considered in isolation, and so should form part of the health and safety policy.
Social distancing may also affect how many people are allowed in at one time, and the control of visitors and contractors.
Social distancing and the concept of one metre plus
There will often be occasions when the social distancing achieved by keeping a two-metre separation may be compromised. In such cases it may be necessary to introduce additional control measures to protect people from the coronavirus. Such control measures may include:
- clear plastic screens (barriers) at reception areas
- reconfigured seating arrangements (back to back, rather than face to face)
- enhanced hand washing
- appropriate use of face coverings or face shields.
Improved cleaning of premises has been a major focus during the current pandemic. There are several areas to which particular attention should be given, including the cleaning and sanitisation of touchpoints such as:
- door handles
- control pads, buttons and switches
For most organisations it is no longer sufficient to rely on external cleaning. To ensure that suitable housekeeping standards are maintained, it is important to involve all members of the team. As a result, it is important to provide suitable cleaning materials (such as disposable wipes) and to instruct and encourage team members to use these regularly.
Personal hygiene (hand washing and sanitising stations)
Personal hygiene, particularly in the form of hand washing, has been established as one of the main control measures for dealing with the current pandemic. As such, it should form an essential part of the health and safety policy. Although hand sanitiser stations may be used to supplement hand washing facilities, they should not replace them.
Use of hand sanitisers has increased enormously during the course of the pandemic. It should be noted, however, that most hand sanitisers are based on alcohol (either ethanol or isopropanol), and as such may damage the skin.
Use of face coverings
In instances where social distancing may be compromised, it is important to have additional control measures in place. Such measures include the appropriate use of face coverings. Face coverings are intended to reduce the spread of droplets of the coronavirus rather than as a method of personal protection of the wearer. As such, face coverings are only effective as a mitigation measure if they are worn by all parties at all relevant times.
Training, instruction, monitoring and enforcement
Many workplaces have made substantial changes to the organisation and operation of the business, and in some instances, people have been absent from the workplace for substantial periods.
It is necessary to provide all staff with a revised induction training (or refresher training) session relating to the new control measures in place within the premises. It is important that all such training is carried out in a sensible and effective manner while ensuring the important messages are communicated and understood.
Plan Do Check Act (PDCA)
Creating the health and safety policy and introducing the control measures throughout the organisation cover the PLAN and the DO aspect of the PDCA cycle. It is important that the effectiveness of these control measures is checked and audited as appropriate to the risk. It is also important that, when failings are identified, the actions are taken. To rectify these failings, there needs to be feedback into the system (including the health and safety policy and the risk assessment) to improve how the system works. This covers the CHECK and ACT part of the PDCA cycle.
Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
- Form – Health and safety action plan
- Form – Health and safety systems primary policy
- Form – Health and safety systems: other health and safety policies
- Form – Managing health and safety (annual checklist)
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