Why a secure workplace must now be the norm

Story – Gautam Viswanathan

When many of us returned to work following the easing of some of the measures that had been put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Oman, it was only natural for us to experience many emotions.

Some of these were sure to feel sentiments of relief, joy, even hope, that we were able to inject some normalcy into our lives, but these feelings would’ve been intermingled with others: nervousness, anxiety, and even some tension.

‘Daddy, don’t go’ is likely to be a short but deep phrase said by many children to their fathers who leave home for work every morning, but companies have put in the place the measures laid out by the Supreme Committee to deal with COVID-19, and the Ministry of Health, as part of their attempts to reduce infection from the disease.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted the world we live in like few other events have, an opinion that is shared by P. Chandrasekr, the group general manager for Jawad Sultan Group. Prior to reopening their doors for employees, his company had already instituted a series of procedures for people to follow before entering the premises.

“From our point of view, it was a very challenging situation in terms of bringing new things into the picture. As far as our company is concerned, we have introduced a lot of centralised checkpoints to check temperatures for people when they are walking into the premises of our office,” he said.

“We are also making provisions to allow for some basic protective gear for visitors and our staff when they come to our workplaces,” added Chandrasekr. “Most importantly, we have decided not to allow crowding of our offices by asking all of our staff to come to work at one go, and we are trying to maintain a roster.”

He went on to say, “We are monitoring and trying to take into consideration all these collaborative steps which enable us to ensure we are able to maintain the safety of the people n the building at all times.”

While companies did need to act fast to put in place the measures issued by the Omani government, and ensure they were being followed, it has not been easy for employees to adjust to the new conditions, primarily because of the uncertainties they have caused in their futures, and the lack of a viable vaccine – a sentiment that is currently shared by workers around the world.

“This is a very difficult situation we are talking about, because most companies in the private sector have never been exposed to this sort of extraordinary situation … this has been a very novel one for them,” explained Chandrasekr. “Many of them are learning from this and trying to implement steps accordingly.

“It was not easy to put these measures in place, though, especially since COVID-19 itself is a very rare phenomenon to hit the market, and there was a bit of denial from people in the beginning, regarding the impact this virus had had on them. They asked questions such as ‘why us’ and wondered what they had done to endure this,” he admitted.

“But when they saw the cases going up around the world and the disease spreading quite rampantly, they realised that the situation everywhere was similar, and with a vaccine not being readily available right now, and no clear view on when it will be ready, there is also a lot of anxiety among people at the moment,” added Chandrasekr.

Among the first few commercial areas to resume operations were the Sultanate’s automobile retail and service sector, which relies on a steady number of customers to generate revenue and profit. Although people are likely to be hesitant to visit them for a while in large numbers, showrooms and factories have begun receiving customers. They have arranged for them to first book appointments and discuss the issues they have with their vehicles over the phone.

“We put in place measures for customers. Whenever they enter our showrooms or after-sales facilities, their temperatures should be checked, and gloves and masks should be made available to them,” said Muhammad Faisal Nawaz, Marketing Manager – Automotive for Mohsin Haider Darwish LLC, an Omani company that operate as agents for several automobile brands including Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.

“Vehicle receiving was done with all the protective gear for our technicians,” he explained. “For us, what was most important was that the customers be given a totally sanitised car, so that was the level of trust we wanted to bring in them. “They have been given protective kits, so that when they touch their cars, they are able to sanitise the various touch points. Whenever a customer comes in the showroom they must wear masks,” he added.

Customers who enter the premises are only allowed to do so if they wear the prescribed protective gear, and are permitted to enter if there aren’t many others in the showroom, so that social distancing protocols are maintained, and there is a reduction in the possibilities of infection. Staff at MHD’s showrooms and auto shops constantly monitor their security feeds to see if it is safe to let in new customers.

“It did take some time to explain to people why we were doing these things and why they were important, but this conversation is the one that we needed to have with all the employees, the salespersons, the technicians, so that we could tell them the measures we needed to take,” explained Muhammad. “All these steps have taken a little time to implement and it does take effort to repeat their importance to the concerned people.

“We cannot say ‘no’ to customers who wish to come to our showrooms, but we have to make sure we maintain social distancing while on the premises. We are also looking at how we can make these methods better, because customer trust is built that way.”

Customers and employees who neglect to wear masks, must be educated on its importance. While it will take some time for people to fully accept this, it is everyone’s responsibility to educate and inform others of what is required.

The Royal Oman Police has also put in place fines for people who do not wear masks in public and assemble in large numbers. According to Ali Al Barwani, a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) professional in Oman, being strict with implementing these rules is the best way to ensure everyone follows them.

“First of all, most of the organisations will aim to reduce the risks present to their employees and their contractors while they are engaged in various activities,” he explained. A very important factor is to provide education on these risks to their staff. It is extremely important, because we have only recently transitioned from stay-at-home orders to the new normal of working under these conditions.

“Yes, businesses must continue to run. There is a requirement for 50 per cent of employees of each organisation to go back to their offices. So the first step that must be taken must be to educate employees on what needs to be done before they leave their homes and go to their offices,” added Al Barwani. “This education should be mandatory. There should be instructions on what the employees need to do for themselves, how to clean their workplaces, and all of the things that we in the country have been discussing for some time.

“They should also issue a declaration that must be given to all the staff who go to the office, which says that all those who come to the office are free of the symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, a cough, or any other sign that points to the possibility of the presence of the disease. If there is something amiss, they need to report this immediately.” – [email protected]