More employees working from home (WFH) may return to the workplace in Singapore, as the Ministry of Health (MOH) has just updated its Requirements for Safe Management Measures (SMM) at the Workplace.
Employees who are presently working from home may return to the workplaces, provided that employers fulfil both the following criteria:
- Such employees continue to work from home for at least half their working time, and
- No more than half of such employees are at the workplace at any point in time.
To take an example, for a full-time worker with a six-day work week, he or she may be allowed to be in the office for up to three days in a week.
Alternatively, an employer with 10 full-time employees who are currently working from home may split the 10 employees into two teams, and ask each team to return to the workplace every alternate week while the other team continues to work from home.
Returning to the workplace can either be initiated by the employee and agreed upon with the employer, or directed by the employer.
Having said that, MOH has specified that: "Working from home remains the default mode of working."
Checklist: Requirements for safe management measures (SMM) at the workplace
The following is a brief checklist of the SMM requirements updated by MOH and Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The full document is available here. These requirements are effective 28 September 2020 and are meant for general workplace settings. Specific workplaces like construction worksites and shipyards may have to fulfil additional requirements and should refer to sector-specific requirements.
A. Take care of your workers
Actively enable employees to work from home.
- Work-from-home remains the default mode of working.
- Those returning to the workplace from 28 September may do so to better support work and business operations.
- For employees whose jobs can be performed from home, employers must ensure that they continue to do so for at least half their working time.
- WFH measures should be implemented in a way that enables employees to maintain work-life harmony while continuing to meet business needs.
For employees who are still unable to WFH, employers should review work processes, provide the necessary IT equipment to employees and adopt solutions that enable remote working and online collaboration.
Companies should continue to conduct virtual meetings as much as possible. Physical meetings between employees and with suppliers / contractors should be minimised, e.g. by using tele-conferencing facilities.
Companies should pay special attention to vulnerable employees (e.g. persons who are aged 60 and above, and patients who are immunocompromised or have concurrent medical conditions). This could be done by enabling them to work-from-home, temporarily redeploying them to another role within the company etc.
For employees at the workplace, employers must ensure the following precautions are in place:
- Stagger start times and allow flexible workplace hours:
- Employers should stagger the start times for all employees such that at least half of all employees start work in the workplace at or after 10am. Timings of lunch and other breaks should also be staggered accordingly.
- For employees who can work-from-home but who return to the workplace, employers should also allow for flexible workplace hours. This is not to shorten work hours, but to allow flexibility to reduce the duration spent in the workplace, while also working from home during the day.
- To illustrate, employers could allow a proportion of their employees to work in the workplace from 10am-4pm, while WFH the rest of the time; employers could also allow their employees to WFH in the morning, and only return to the workplace in the afternoon, e.g. from 1-5pm; or return to the workplace only for meetings and work-from-home the rest of the day.
- If it is not feasible to implement staggered start times, flexible workplace hours, and staggered break hours due to operational reasons, employers must implement other systemic arrangements to reduce congregation of employees at common spaces.
- Implement shift or split team arrangements:
- No employee should work in more than one team or worksite.
- There should be no cross-deployment or interaction between employees in different shifts, teams or worksites, even outside of work.
- Employers must ensure clear separation of employees on different shifts or split teams.
- If cross-deployment cannot be avoided (e.g. due to the nature of the job), additional safeguards must be taken to minimise the risk of cross infection.
- All work-related events (i.e. seminars, corporate retreats, staff training sessions, AGMs, etc.) that proceed at the workplace must adhere to prevailing workplace Safe Management Measures and are subjected to the following requirements:
- The number of persons per event must be capped at 50 persons.
- Attendees must maintain at least 1 metre safe distancing between individual attendees.
- Food and drinks should preferably not be served at workplace events.
- If deemed necessary to serve meals, individuals must be seated and served individually and minimise contact with one another while eating. Meal durations should be kept short to minimise the period that individuals are unmasked, and the meal should not be a main feature of the event.
- Minimise socialising
- Employers must not organise or encourage social gatherings within or outside the workplace.
- Employers must ensure that employees adhere to the permissible group size.
- Wear masks at the workplace: Employers must ensure that all onsite personnel, including employees, visitors, suppliers and contractors, wear a mask and other necessary personal protective equipment at all times at the workplace.
- Employers should ensure that they have sufficient masks for all employees, including any need to replace masks more frequently.
- Employers should consider improving the working environment to enable employees to sustain wearing the masks.
- Observe good personal hygiene: Employers should encourage their employees to wash their hands regularly and refrain from touching their face.
B. Take care of the workplace
- Control access at the workplace to only essential employees and authorised visitors. Employers must use the SafeEntry system to record the entry of all personnel (including employees and visitors) entering the workplace.
- Personnel who are unwell (including having a fever upon temperature screening) must be refused entry to the workplace. Visitors who are unwell should be asked to reschedule their appointments to another day when they are well, or be served via alternate means.
- Employers must ensure that employees and visitors must declare via SafeEntry or other means19 (e.g. electronic or hard copy records), before being allowed to enter premises, that they:
- Are currently not under a Quarantine Order, Stay-Home Notice;
- Have not had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days; and
- Do not have any fever or flu-like symptoms.
- Adhere to travel advisories: Employers should ensure that their employees adhere to MOH’s prevailing travel advisory.
- Where physical interaction cannot be avoided, precautions should be taken to ensure clear physical spacing of at least 1m through physical means21 and demarcation of safe physical distances (at least 1m apart) using visual indicators, in the following situations:
- Between all persons at meeting rooms, work areas, and workstations; and
- At all times during work-related events held at the workplace.
- Employers who are service buyers should also require their suppliers / contractors to implement similar safe distancing measures.
- Minimise need for physical touchpoints: Employers should reduce the occurrences of, or need for common physical touchpoints in the workplace where possible (e.g. by deploying contactless access controls).
- Step up cleaning of workplace premises through the following:
- Employers must ensure regular cleaning of common spaces, particularly areas with high human contact.
- Where physical meetings are held or meals are taken at common spaces such as pantries or canteens, employers must clean and disinfect tables between each meeting or seating.
- Employers must ensure that machinery and equipment shared between different employees across different shifts or alternate teams are cleaned and disinfected before changing hands.
- Provide cleaning and disinfecting agents at the following areas:
- Cleaning agents (e.g. liquid soap, toilet paper) must be available at all toilets and hand-wash stations.
- Disinfecting agents (e.g. hand sanitisers) must be installed at all human traffic stoppage points within the workplace, such as entrances, reception areas, security booths and lift lobbies.
- Disinfecting agents (e.g. disinfectant sprays, paper towels and wipes) must be provided at meeting rooms and other common spaces such as pantries or canteens.
C. Take care of workers who become unwell at the workplace
- Ensure regular checks for temperature and respiratory symptoms for all onsite employees and visitors, twice daily or where relevant. Employers must be able to demonstrate that these checks are in place during inspections.
- Record proximity data on phones: Employers should encourage all employees to download and activate the TraceTogether app.
- Actively monitor unwell employees and guard against incipient outbreaks:
- Employees at the workplace who have visited a clinic must submit to their employers records of their MCs and diagnoses provided (only for COVID-19-related symptoms, including acute respiratory infections), and if they were tested for COVID-19 and the results of their tests.
- Employers must take preventive action to guard against incipient outbreaks at the workplace, such as advising employees who are unwell to stay home and consult a doctor rather than going to the workplace, requiring these employees on MCs to closely monitor their health before returning to the workplace and requiring these employees’ close contacts at the workplace to monitor their health more regularly.
- Where possible, employers should ensure that each employee visits only one clinic for check-ups if unwell. Otherwise, employees should inform the clinic of all recent doctor visits over past 14 days for any symptoms that may be related to COVID-19.
- Manage unwell cases: An evacuation plan must be prepared for unwell or suspected cases, as well as for other onsite personnel.
- Any employee who is feeling unwell or showing symptoms of illness should report to his employer, leave the workplace and consult a doctor immediately, even if symptoms may appear mild.
- Employers must track and record these cases as part of Safe Management Measures.
- For incapacitated or unconscious individuals, employers must clear the area of other personnel and administer aid immediately. Employers should call 995 for an emergency ambulance to ferry them to the nearest hospital.
- Manage confirmed cases: A follow-up plan must be put in place in the event of a confirmed case. Upon being notified of a confirmed case, employers must adopt the following precautionary measures:
- Immediately vacate and cordon-off the immediate section of the workplace premises where the confirmed case worked. [There is no need to vacate the building or the whole floor if there had been no sustained and close contact with the confirmed case]; and
- Carry out a thorough cleaning and disinfecting all relevant on-site areas and assets that were exposed to confirmed cases.
- For worksites with confirmed cases, businesses could be suspended if there are public health grounds.
D. Implement a system of Safe Management Measures
- Implement a detailed monitoring plan to ensure compliance with Safe Management Measures and timely resolution of outstanding issues.
- Appoint Safe Management Officer(s) (SMO) to assist in the implementation, coordination and monitoring of the system of SMM at the workplace. For unionised companies, union leaders or WSH officers could be appointed as SMOs.
- Employers must provide appointed SMOs with adequate instruction, information and supervision as is necessary for them to fulfil their required duties. SMOs are strongly encouraged to receive training. The duties of the Officer(s) include:
- To coordinate implementation of SMM, and communicating the measures to all personnel working in the workplace;
- To conduct inspections and checks, to ensure compliance at all times. Any non-compliance should be reported and documented;
- To remedy non-compliance found during the inspections and checks through immediate action; and
- To keep records of inspections, checks and correction actions, to be made available upon request by a Government Inspector.
- Employers must ensure that the measures above are in place, communicated and explained to employees prior to resuming work onsite.
- Signs should also be put up to remind employees and visitors to observe all measures in place. Unionised companies should engage their unions on such arrangements.
- Employees should also do their part in adhering to the measures to create a safe working environment. Those who wish to report breaches or poor practices can do so via SnapSAFE, an app that allows the reporting of workplace safety and health issues to MOM.
In its statement, MOH said: "This update has been carefully considered to balance the concerns of employers regarding the impact of extended periods of working-from-home on productivity and workplace relations, while creating safe workplaces for employees.
"This will also support employees who face particular difficulty working-from-home."
Events within the workplace may resume
MOH has also shared that work-related events can resume, subject to the following requirements:
- They are held within the workplace premises
- They are business-oriented (such as conferences, seminars, corporate retreats, Annual General Meetings and Extraordinary General Meetings)
- Capacity: Up to 50 persons (or lower depending on venue capacity based on safe management principles)
- Strict adherence to SMM requirements e.g. at least 1m safe distancing between each employee.
The Ministry has said it will consider allowing the resumption of work-related events at external venues at a later date.
As such, currently, employers are not allowed to organise or encourage larger-scale social gatherings within or outside the workplace such as:
- Team bonding activities,
- Dinner-and-dance (D&D), and
- Gala dinners.
Workplace SMM necessary for safe working environments
To reduce the risk of transmission with the gradual resumption of activities, employers must continue to ensure clear physical spacing of at least 1m and demarcate safe physical distances:
- Between all persons at meeting rooms, work areas, and workstations; and
- At all times during work-related events held at the workplace.
In addition, employers must continue to ensure good workplace SMMs such as controlling access at the workplace and cleaning of common spaces regularly. Employees should also do their part in adhering to the measures.
The tripartite partners – MOM, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) will continue to review the requirements periodically to take further developments into account, such as updated medical advice or technological updates.
The onus is on employers and employees to comply with the SMM requirements, including the use of SafeEntry to check-in all employees and visitors as required.
Non-compliance with SMMs may result in penalties such as suspension of on-site operations, fines, and withholding of payouts for government support schemes and grants. More severe violations of SMMs may result in prosecution. The SnapSAFE app may continue to be used to report any breach of the requirements at the workplace.
Photo / 123RF