‘Constant contact and confined spaces are risky’

PETALING JAYA: Known to many as their second home due to the hours spent there, some workplaces are unfortunately quite a Covid-19 risk these days.

As pointed out by Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, about 30% of the 230 clusters that had emerged since the outbreak began in Malaysia were linked to the workplace.

He revealed last Tuesday that 62 clusters were workplace-related, out of which 37 of them are still active.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said employees working in jobs dealing with customers and those in confined spaces at work were most at risk of contracting Covid-19.

For example, he said security guards would have many people passing by them.

“There are also those working in air-conditioned offices where there is a danger of the disease spreading to others, ” he said.

This explained why the government wanted a minimum number of people in office spaces, so that the rest could work from home, he added.

Shamsuddin said that air filtration equipment in offices must be regularly serviced to ensure air quality.

As there are many Covid-19 cases that are asymptomatic, Shamsuddin said companies needed to come up with stringent procedures to ensure the safety of employees, with those feeling unwell refraining from coming to the workplace.

“Even though there are no apparent symptoms, sometimes you know your body is not doing well and something is not right, ” he said.

SME Association of Malaysia president Datuk Michael Kang concurred, saying the majority of Covid-19 cases came from the retail sectors such as restaurants and crowded places, and much less from the factories or offices.

But Kang noted that the workplace could get infected due to employees going out to public areas and bringing back the virus, thus infecting their colleagues.

“All employees and employers have to follow the SOP. Measure your temperature, wear a face mask and wash your hands, ” he said.

The Malaysia Retail Chain Association (MRCA) pointed out that it was “highly speculative” to say that infection occurs at the workplace as it could also take place outside working hours.

“We believe that with strict implementation and compliance with Covid-19 workplace SOP, retail employees are not exposed to higher risk than those in industries such as banking, automotive and manufacturing.

“It is a fact that the virus does not discriminate based on industry, and transmission usually happens when such SOP is not fully adhered to.

“For example, the banking industry has also reported a rise in the number of cases in the past week, ” it said in a statement.

MRCA noted that prevention starts from home, and the “internalisation” of the SOP as the “new normal” would help minimise the overall risk of infection – be it at work or otherwise.

MTUC deputy president Mohd Effendy Abdul Ghani said more stringent enforcement of the SOP was better, adding that non-compliance was prevalent.

“There are employers who take the SOP lightly, so we think they need stricter enforcement. With the employees too, they need to have better self-discipline, ” he said.

Health experts said it was not surprising that Covid-19 infections would emerge in workplaces.

This is because many people were inclined to let their guard down while at work, as they felt that they were in a “comfort zone” or familiar place.

Universiti Malaya public health medicine specialist Prof Dr Victor Hoe said this was similar to when people were with friends and family.

“When we feel comfortable and secure, we tend to let our guard down and forget about the precautionary measures and SOP, ” he said, adding that there was also an increased risk of transmission in workers’ quarters.

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covid-19 , virus , coronavirus , MEF , SME , MTUC , MRCA


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