CORONAVIRUS

Wash clothes in hot water and stay two meters apart: Spain’s guide for returning workers

With some non-essential businesses set to resume activity this week, the Health Ministry has published a list of recommendations on how to avoid contracting the coronavirus

A worker cleans a railing at Atocha train station in Madrid.
A worker cleans a railing at Atocha train station in Madrid. / Luis De Vega Hernández /

This coming Monday will mark a return to regular activity for some non-essential businesses that were placed in a temporary period of “hibernation” on March 30. This includes companies from the industrial and construction sectors that were forced to close for two weeks as the government ramped up existing confinement measures in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus. For companies located in regions that observe Easter Monday, the return will be pushed to Tuesday.

The government’s decision to ease the restrictions on non-essential business was made despite concerns from its Covid-19 expert committee, which believes it is too soon to lift the measure. In a bid to ensure the change does not lead to a rise in coronavirus cases, the Spanish government has published a guide for workers and businesses with recommendations on how to reduce the risk of contagion.

The guide, published on Saturday by the Health Ministry, aims to provide workers with clear guidelines on how to act when they leave their homes. These recommendations apply to workers in the industrial and construction sector, as well as other industries where working remotely is not possible. Public-facing businesses like shops, entertainment centers and restaurants (except those which deliver) will remain closed. The guide also applies to essential activities, like food distribution and the production of health resources, which were not suspended during the state of alarm or temporary “hibernation” period.

These are the main recommendations for workers.

Don’t go to work if you have symptoms

The first recommendation is for workers to stay at home if they are experiencing any symptoms of the coronavirus. The guide states: “Faced with any symptom (coughing, fever, difficulty breathing etc.) that could be associated with Covid-19, contact the Covid-19 hotline in your region or your primary healthcare center and follow their instructions. You should not go to work until they confirm that you are not a risk to yourself or to others.” The guide adds that anyone who has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus must avoid work for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus.

Use private transport if possible

The guide recommends that workers use a private form of transport, such as a motorbike, bicycle or walking, to get to and from work. This is to help ensure that people remain two meters apart when traveling to work and so minimize the risk of contagion. The guide states: “If you are walking to work, or using a motorbike or bicycle, you do not need to wear a face mask. Keep the interpersonal distance [of two meters] when you are walking on the street.”

A private car is also an option, but the guide adds that utmost care must be taken to clean the vehicle, and that no more than one person should be in the front and back seats. The same recommendation is given for workers who take taxis or use ride-hailing services like Uber.

Use face masks on public transport

The Health Ministry recommends that face masks be worn during journeys on buses, the Metro train or the intercity train service, as well as on company trips. “In the case of public buses, the driver will monitor capacity and that [passengers] respect the interpersonal distance. It is recommended that you use hygienic, not medical, face masks if you are traveling on public transport.”

The type of mask the government is talking about is not the surgical mask typically used by health staff, nor the filter mask, which is necessary for those who deal with the sick. Rather, it is a new kind of hygienic or barrier mask, classed by the Spanish Standardization Association with the code UNE 0064-1 for adults, and UNE 0064-2 for children. Health Minister Salvador Illa announced on Friday that these masks will be distributed on public transport from Monday.

Keep a two-meter distance

The guide recommends that work tasks are organized so that staff can remain two meters apart, both when while working and as they are leaving and entering the workplace. The guide adds that this distance must be guaranteed in common areas, in particular changing rooms. “The return to activity must be guided by the principle of risk minimization. That’s why, those activities that present a risk of large gatherings must be the last to resume normal activity.”

Minimize contact between client and staff

In the case of companies that serve the public, measures must be implemented to minimize the contact between clients and staff. The guide recommends controls be placed at business entrances to ensure that the site does not exceed its capacity, which should be set so that the interpersonal distance of two meters can be respected at all times. The guide also states that online and card payments should be encouraged, and recommends “the use of partitions and physical elements that assure the protection of the client / salesperson,” and which can easily be cleaned and disinfected. According to the recommendations, “Businesses must provide personal protection equipment when the risks cannot be avoided.”

Set flexible hours

The guide recommends companies set more flexible working hours and stagger timetables to avoid large gatherings on public transport, and when workers enter and leave the workplace. This also must be done if the workspace does not allow staff to maintain a safe distance during the normal work schedule. The guide also suggests suspending clocking in systems that use digital fingerprint records.

Use face masks when working around others

The Health Ministry recommends workers use face masks while working with other people. “The use of a barrier face mask, in the case that others cannot be accessed, is recommended when you work with people around you,” the guide states.

Gloves for more exposed workers

In professions that are more exposed to the coronavirus, the Health Ministry asks that companies provide workers with enough personal protection equipment. “It is necessary to have enough supply of protection, especially gloves and face masks, for staff when it is indicated by the office of job risk prevention, and, specifically, for those most exposed (doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, public-facing workers)” to the coronavirus.

Medical service

The guide states that all companies, independently of their size, must clearly identify their medical service “in order to rapidly intervene on the ground in collaboration with the public health system.”

Hygiene recommendations

According to the guide, companies must ventilate their facilities at least once a day for more than five minutes. The guidelines recommend that the temperature of the workplace be set between 23ºC and 26ºC. The Health Ministry also suggests cleaning air filters more frequently; checking at least once a day that soap dispensers, anti-bacterial gel, and paper towels are in working order; increasing the cleaning done in all areas, especially surfaces and door knobs; and periodically disinfecting tables and counters. The guide adds that workspaces must be cleaned after each worker’s shift. All of these jobs must be done with a face mask and disposable gloves, according to the guidelines.

Wash uniforms in hot water

The guide recommends that workers wash their work clothes or uniform in a “complete cycle in a temperature between 60ºC and 90ºC.” These clothes should be taken off at the end of the shift and carried in a closed and sealed bag to their normal laundry.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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