Impractical workplace rules
That is the gist of the message the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) sent last week to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) as the country’s businesses gradually return to normalcy.
The business organization asked the IATF to refrain from imposing additional workplace requirements in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic until after the economy has recovered from its adverse effects.
The PCCI described as impractical “mandating the use of face shields for workers, the observance of 2-meter physical distancing and the designation of an isolation area of one room for every 200 employees.”
The businesses PCCI represents have reason to demand a moratorium on the imposition of additional workplace regulations.
With some prepandemic labor rules already a pain in the neck, the IATF’s COVID-19-related requirements have made it more difficult for businesses (or what’s left of them) to get back on their feet and adjust to the new normal.
To aggravate matters, the economy is in recession and the government has yet to fully implement an effective business stimulus program.
In fairness to the IATF, however, it cannot be faulted for its exuberance in ordering dramatic changes in business operations to minimize the spread of the virus that has no known vaccine or cure up to now.
As it was the first time a virus with such debilitating effects has hit the country, the government was caught flatfooted and had to improvise along the way to stem its spread.
By this time, with the benefit of six months of experience, the IATF should have realized a one-size-fits-all approach in the restructuring of workplaces is unrealistic, or worse, counterproductive.
It ignores the fact that each kind of business has its own way of doing business depending on the plans or programs of its owners.
What may work in one business may not necessarily work or have the same results in another. And that rule applies also to the adoption and implementation of health measures.
For example, requiring the sales personnel in shopping malls to wear face shields and mask makes sense because those areas have high pedestrian densities.
With hundreds of people going in and out daily, there is a strong possibility that some of them have the virus and may inadvertently spread it by coughing or sneezing. Since malls are air-conditioned, the expelled virus can easily circulate.
But the same cannot be said of, say, an electronics assembly plant that has strict rules on the movement of employees and regulates the quality of the air in the work premises to avoid the corruption of their products.
In the latter case, with preventive measures in place, face masks should suffice as face shields would be superfluous and impair the ability of the workers to visually check the quality of their work.
A similar situation applies to workplaces that are outdoors or in the open where the air freely circulates, such as poultry farms.
In workplaces with minimal public interaction and have stringent measures to prevent the entry or spread of the virus, it would be an “overkill” (or as an old term goes, overacting) to require the use of face shields or other preventive gadgets in addition to face masks.
The IATF should bear in mind that every COVID-19-related workplace requirement represents an additional strain on a business’ operating costs.
Face masks, face shields, alcohol, disinfectants, plastic dividers and other personal protective equipment are not cheap.
Money that could otherwise help increase productivity or add to the employees’ pay envelope would have to be diverted to acquire those materials or facilities.
The IATF has to do a balancing act between safeguarding the health of employees and taking into consideration the impact of such action on the financial capability of business.
Strict workplace requirements would be meaningless if they would result in business closures. INQ
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