Published 4 May 2020, The Daily Tribune

COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. It has affected almost every aspect of our daily existence — from wearing face masks to observing physical distancing, from restricting our mobility to a ban on public gatherings and all other changes which were unthinkable just a couple of months ago. These visible changes call for a quick response from the government and private institutions alike, and a robust plan to ensure that the spread of the virus will be contained and further eliminated.

The Departments of Labor and Employment and Trade and Industry have recently issued Joint Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19 dated 30 April 2020 to assist private institutions that are allowed to operate during the enhanced community quarantine and general community quarantine in developing the minimum health protocols and standards in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on the guidelines, employers shall provide appropriate resources to keep their employees healthy and the workplace safe, e.g., masks, soap, sanitizer, PPE (personal protective equipment), including COVID-19 testing kits. Further, employers must designate the safety officer to monitor the COVID-19 prevention and control measures such as physical distancing, regular disinfection and wearing of masks.

Prior to entering the workplace, employees must spray alcohol/sanitizers on both hands, have their temperatures checked, and accomplish a health symptoms questionnaire daily. For any personnel with a temperature above 37.5°C or if their response in the questionnaire needs further evaluation by the clinic staff, the employee shall be isolated in an area and not allowed to enter the premises. Employers are also encouraged to provide disinfectant foot baths at the entrance of workplaces, if practicable.

Inside the workplace, all frequently handled objects such as door knobs and handles shall be cleaned and disinfected regularly — at least once every two hours. Employees, whether in office workstations or in operations area, shall always practice physical distancing at the minimum of one-meter radius space (side, back and front) between workers. Further, eating in communal areas is discouraged. However, if eating in individual work areas is not possible, the employer shall ensure that physical distancing is maintained in dining areas with one worker per table and one-meter distance per worker.

The same guidelines likewise provide strict measures in the event that a worker is suspected of having COVID-19. In such a scenario, the suspect COVID-19 employee shall immediately proceed to the isolation area designated in the workplace. Clinic personnel attending to the suspect COVID-19 employee should wear appropriate PPE and, if needed, should require the transfer of the suspected employee to the nearest hospital.

Thereafter, the workplace shall be decontaminated with appropriate disinfectant (e.g. chlorine bleaching solution and 1:100 phenol-based disinfectant). Note that it is only after decontamination that work can resume after 24 hours. Workers present in the work area with the suspect COVID-19 employee shall go on 14-days home quarantine. If suspect COVID-19 worker has a negative result, co-workers may now be allowed to report back to work.

At their own expense, employers may also test their employees for COVID-19. However, they must ensure that the guidelines for testing of workers and interpretation of results issued by the Department of Health are duly complied with.

Here is to wishing that you stay negative (of the virus).

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