Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caused by Sars-Cov-2 virus known as corona is the newly discovered respiratory disease where it spread person to person through small droplets from nose or mouth of an infected person and it has been declared as pandemic by World Health Organization. Fever, tiredness, difficulty in breathing, runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, diarrhea and dry cough are the sign and symptoms for Covid-19. The total worldwide population that categorized as confirmed case of COVID-19 until today reach about 63.3 million with 1.47 million of death. This disease is worrying as it rapidly transmitted globally and number of cases also had intensely increasing from day to day. Children, pregnant women, elderly and person with serious underlying medical conditions such as Diabetes and Hypertension are among the high risk group to get affected by this virus. Covid-19 in Malaysia reached about 67,000 cases with 363 deaths and this pandemic had severely effecting the public daily life, economy and employment aspect.
Challenges faced by employers for the implementation of OSHA 1994 during Covid-19
Covid-19 pandemic had change the normal living situation of people and due to it occurrence, new life norms had being introduced and being practiced which purposely to control the transmission of the virus. Talking about employment aspect, Covid-19 had cause large, medium and small businesses and companies in Malaysia to face big challenges and issues to sustain their growth. Tourism, food supplies, travel, retail and also manufacturing are among the business sectors that highly affected as people are being advised to stay indoor which make their business become slow and some of them also need to halt due to many factors which mainly associated with financial. The employers and employees are both affected as they have connection and benefit each other in term of income and business continuity.
As stated in Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 (OSHA 1994) under Section 15 (1), every employer and self-employed person are responsible to ensure the safety, health and welfare of his employees at the workplace, so far as is practicable. Due this pandemic occurrence, one of the challenges is the assurance of employee safety where employers were required to assess the risk exposure in workplace to Covid-19 before preventive measures can be implemented. Exposure risk level might be different depend on type of occupation which can be categorized as low (job with infrequent physical contact like office workers), medium risk (occupation with frequent contact such as retail workers) and high risk (job which have contact with people who likely to have Covid-19 such as healthcare workers). The risk exposure assessed by employers with the help of Safety Health Officer (SHO) or Occupational Officer support can guide employers of what control measures must be implemented in order to guarantee the safety of working environment from health risk due to transmission of virus to fellow employees. Stated under Section 18 (a) in Occupational Safety and Health (Safety and Health Officer) Regulations 1997, SHO are responsible to advise the employer or any person in charge of a workplace regarding the control measures to be taken for the assurance of the safety and health aspect of employees.
Additionally, employers are required to develop Covid-19 response plan, implement the plan which also involved of communication regarding workplace hazards, flexibilities and protections to workers and related information such as Covid-19 way of transmission together with its sign and symptoms. The occurrence of disease pandemic had led to the absence of employee which might be because of fear to being exposed in workplace or having at home commitment such as taking care of children since day care centers were being closed. This will impact the working productivity, income and also affecting the other employees. Therefore, the most common control measure that being taken to prevent the spreading of virus in the same time to enable workers to present in the workplace is through the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Employers should provide and train their employees regarding the PPE on how to use, dispose and disinfect it. Employers of sectors which do not required the use of PPE such as retail sector before disease occurrence should provide their employees with PPE include of gloves and 3-ply surgical face mask. Some employees include of doctors, nurses, soldiers, Environmental Health officers and other healthcare workers and others who associated in combating the Covid-19 transmission, they need to be provided with full set of PPE include of gloves, respirator, disposable face shield, goggles, gown and even shoes cover. The full set PPE are essential for them as they may have contact objects and surrounding surfaces that harbor the virus. The PPE given by employers should not be charged on expenditure employees as stated in OSHA 1994 under Section 26.
Additionally, the other basic prevention measures to combat Covid-19 infection at workplace is through the development of health standards and guidance prepared by employers to employees. To ensure the effectiveness of this strategies, employees are responsible in following the good hygiene and work practice control as being designed. The elements that involved are consist of promote employees to frequently and thoroughly washing their hands with anti-bacterial soap and also hand sanitizer with 70% alcohol, practice covering etiquette when sneezing and coughing and thermal screening to measure the body temperature. The other most crucial method to avoid of virus spreading in workplace is employers should instruct their employees to practice social distancing and avoid physical contact with each other. Employees must take care of themselves in term of safety and health aspect, give cooperation to employers, wear PPE provided by employers and comply with instruction given by employers are included under duties of an employer in workplace in OSHA 1994 under Section 24 (1), and employers who violate these provisions is considered guilty of an offence, liable to fine and imprisonment.
Subsequently, Covid-19 had caused workers for most of occupation were being advised to work from home due to Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) in included area. Temporarily, employees who required to present in the workplace such as manufacturing factory workers and armed forces, their working hours must be shorten by employers to reduce the exposure risk to the virus infection. As precautionary measures, employers must establish workers’ flexible working hours which is by scheduled them to have staggered shift days or job rotation and this action will downscale work activities for relate occupation. Next, employers must actively instruct their workers to stay at home and take a leave if they are sick which considered as administrative control. Another actions that can be taken into account is employers shall limit access in some company areas, restrict employees who had close contact with infected person or employees who come back from travelling to high risk areas. Other than that, employers should also develop procedures for employees to inform if they are sick or experiencing symptoms and self-monitor of themselves if they suspect possible exposures.
In regards of Covid-19 pandemic, termination of workers due to company loss is also one of the challenges faced by employers especially in most affected sectors such as travel sector. For some cases which Covid-19 were confirmed to happen and transmit in workplace among the employees such as in Top Glove factory, it is consider as occupational disease and relates with Section 2 (1) of Occupational Safety And Health (Notification Of Accident, Dangerous Occurrence, Occupational Poisoning And Occupational Disease) Regulations 2004. Employer should take immediate action by reporting the disease occurrence by using JKKP 7 form to Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) as stated in Section 5 (1) of NADOPOD regulations. The next step to be taken when transmission happened in workplace is employer must provide information to Ministry of Health to detect close contact with positive employees which must undergo Covid-19 test. It should then be followed by employer must carry out cleaning and disinfection in all workplace areas and the workplace cleaning should follow the guidelines set by Ministry of Health.
To conclude, Covid-19 pandemic that happened in Malaysia had put many of its employers to deal with various responsibilities in order to implement the requirements under Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 and its subsidiary regulations for the assurance of workplace health and safety from the virus. Employers had to face many challenges include of develop Covid-19 response plan, establish workers’ flexibility hours, communicate the disease pandemic to workers, provide PPE to employees which consumed great deal of expenses and required to inform DOSH if transmission happened in workplace. Therefore, as changes and new norms had being introduced in workplace, employees must fully cooperate by complying every order given by employers. Mental health and psychosocial support between employers and employees are required during Covid-19 pandemic.