Advisory on safe distancing measures at the workplace
Mar 13, 2020
Advisory on safe distancing measures at the workplace
Issued on 13 March 2020
Updated as of 20 March and 26 March 2020
- On 13 March 2020 and 20 March 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced various safe distancing measures to be taken to reduce the risk of local spread of COVID-19, including at workplaces. Such measures are to limit close contact and large gatherings of people in close proximity over a prolonged duration. On 24 March 2020, MOH has announced stricter safe distancing measures to limit gatherings outside of work and school to 10 persons or less, and ensure that physical distancing of at least 1m can be achieved in most settings where interactions are non-transient. When combined with good personal hygiene and social responsibility together with efforts to tighten our borders and to quarantine and ring-fence any infection clusters, these measures can help to suppress the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore.
Employers and employees must adopt safe distancing measures at the workplace
- The tripartite partners – the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) – expect employers to adopt strict safe distancing measures at the workplace as outlined in this advisory, so as to provide a safe working environment for their employees. MOM and MOH will take enforcement actions against employers who do not implement safe distancing measures, including ordering employers or occupiers to cease operations until the measures are put in place.
- Employees are reminded to practise social responsibility by observing good personal hygiene, monitoring their own health conditions and staying at home to rest if unwell. They must also cooperate with their employers in the implementation of these safe distancing practices at the workplace and encourage their co-workers to do so as well.
A. Work from home
- Where employees can perform their work by telecommuting from home, the employer must ensure that they do so. Special attention should be paid to vulnerable employees (e.g. older employees, pregnant employees and employees who have underlying medical conditions) to enable them to work from home, including temporarily redeploying these employees to another role within the company that is suitable for working from home. Measures could include reviewing the work processes and providing the necessary IT equipment to employees.
B. Other arrangements
- For job roles or functions where employees cannot work from home, such as frontline operations and fieldwork at construction sites, shipyards or plants, employers must take the following precautions:
- Reduce need for and duration of physical interactions: Employers must minimise the need for physical meetings, e.g. by using tele-conferencing facilities. If there is a critical need for physical meetings to proceed, the number of attendees should be limited and the duration shortened.
- Ensure clear physical spacing of at least 1m apart: Employers must provide for wider physical spacing (of at least 1m apart) for work stations (e.g. clearly demarcating the work stations that can be used to achieve the 1m spacing). Available seats in meeting rooms should also be spaced at least 1m apart and clearly marked. The same safe distancing measures should also apply to common spaces, such as entrances/exits, lifts, pantries/canteens, where congregation or queuing of employees or visitors/clients might occur. Employers should also remind employees to maintain the 1m physical spacing during informal discussions amongst employees.
- Stagger working hours: Employers must implement staggered working hours to reduce possible congregation of employees at common spaces such as entrances/exits. The staggered working hours must be implemented over at least three 1-hourly blocks, with not more than half of the employees reporting to work within each 1-hour block. For example, if the normal working hours are from 9am to 6pm, employers could stagger employees’ reporting times at one-hour intervals between 7.30 am and 10.30 am (e.g. 7.30 am to 8.30 am, 8.30 am to 9.30 am and 9.30 am to 10.30am), with corresponding staggered timings for end of work. Timings of lunch and other breaks must also be staggered. Where possible, reporting and ending times should not coincide with peak-hour travel, especially if employees require the use of public transport.
- Defer or cancel all events: There may be workplace activities which involve close and prolonged contact amongst participants. Employers must defer or cancel all such events or activities. These could include conferences, seminars and exhibitions. Social gatherings at the workplace, such as the celebration of birthdays, should be kept to no more than 10 persons at any one time, with safe distancing measures in place.
- Implement or enhance shift or split team arrangements: For suitable workplace settings such as those in manufacturing, employers can consider deploying employees in shifts, if such arrangements are not yet in place, while extending operational hours to maintain production output.1Alternatively, employers should look into split team arrangements where employees are assigned to work under alternate teams (e.g. Team A & Team B) and are deployed according to different work schedules or at different work sites. Employers should consider clear separation of employees on different shifts or split teams, such as implementing human traffic management measures and stepping up cleaning of common areas during shift or split team changeovers.
- Prior to implementing the above measures, employers should clearly communicate and explain them to employees. Unionised companies should engage their unions on such arrangements.
- Employers who are service buyers should also request their suppliers/contractors to implement similar safe distancing measures, so that operations and business interactions with these suppliers/contractors are kept safe. Where physical interactions are still necessary, e.g. delivery of goods, employers must adopt precautionary measures such as scheduling delivery times by different suppliers in a staggered manner. The durations of such transactions should be kept as short as possible.
- For employers who have frontline or customer-facing operations, they should adopt queue management measures as recommended by the Enterprise Singapore (ESG) for safe distancing measures for businesses to reduce physical interactions between service staff and customers as well as amongst customers. Such measures could include mobile or self-help ordering or payment options and cashless or contactless payment modes.
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- Employers will still be required to comply with the provisions in the Employment Act (EA) on working hour limits (e.g. hours of work excluding breaks cannot exceed 12 hours in a day) for employees covered under Part IV of the EA.