Slovakia: COVID-19 & Back to work and back to the office

By Katarína Pfeffer, Bibiana Mozolová

06-2020

As Slovakia continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic along with the rest of the world, we must still remember to remain vigilant and be careful. However, we are seeing some positive results in the fight against COVID-19, which indicates that our discipline and responsible approach has borne fruit.

The Central crisis team are adopting further relaxations of the protective measures taken, as well as the return of life to business centres and office space. The Public Health Office of the Slovak Republic (the "Office") has therefore issued guidelines on protective and safety measures at the workplace in connection with the risk of COVID-19 in times of crisis. [1]

If possible, home office / online work of employees is still recommended, or at least establishing "shifts" of teams/employees in a combination of home office and office/workplace work. As an option, especially to reduce contact and prevent unnecessary gatherings, it is also recommended, e.g., to change the working hours of certain groups/teams, in so far as this is possible and the nature of the activity allows. Below we briefly summarise the Office's recommendations.

Facemasks and distancing

Protecting the upper respiratory tract with a facemask, scarf or shawl, still generally applies. Although from 21 April 2020, wearing a facemask outdoors is voluntary only if it is possible to observe a minimum distance of 5m from others, and as of today, 3 June 2020, a minimum distance of 2m, otherwise facemasks must be worn everywhere outside your home, e.g., in the office at all times. The employer is not obliged to provide special certified personal protective equipment unless the employee works in conditions with an increased risk of exposure to biological factors and special regulations require it (i.e., laboratories, hospitals, etc.).

Social distancing in common areas in particular, such as kitchens, hallways, stairs, elevators, etc. should receive particular attention to ensure that there is no contact between employees unless necessary, and that they keep a distance of a minimum 2 m apart.

The guidelines do not state that a facemask is not required if the employee is alone in the office. However, for open space, even under the minimum 2m safe distance, there is no indication that facemasks must be worn, and the general rule to wear facemasks indoors still applies. Therefore, as far as possible, not only is 2 m spacing between occupied workstations/tables recommended, but it would also be ideal for employees to sit alone in separate offices/meeting rooms, and as mentioned above, and facemasks must be worn inside buildings and premises. Of course, many employers use open space, so individual measures should be carefully evaluated and steps should be taken to ensure the primary protection of health and safety of employees.

The number of visits to the office or premises should be reduced, e.g., by booking meeting rooms appropriately with the minimum number of participants required, as well as sufficient time allowed to disinfect and ventilate the room etc. between meetings.

Disinfection at work

In addition to employees being able to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly (under running water with liquid soap, and using disposable paper towels) and providing disinfectants, e.g., various gels or disinfectant wipes directly to employees, as well as to clients/visitors, the employer is also obliged to routinely disinfect all floors and contact surfaces, in particular tables, chairs, railings, keyboards, handles, etc. No specific disinfectant is specified, however, it must have antivirus strength. Therefore, it sufficient to clean with a neutral detergent, which most companies have already been using, and then clean with commonly available disinfectants containing sodium hypochlorite solution (0.1% -0.5%). At the same time, it is recommended to disinfect personal hygiene equipment at least twice a day.

The Office also recommends limiting the use of common work equipment, such as keyboards, pens, pencils and other aids. This should be taken into account especially in shared/open seat systems, when the employee is not assigned "his/her" desk, but works from a free table.

Air conditioning

Air conditioning, in particular in shared open spaces, is always the subject of much discussion, especially among employees, and it is often difficult to achieve a balance that suits everyone. In the current COVID-19 situation, this can be considered a source of risk. The Office, therefore recommends, if possible, using natural and regular ventilation through windows. Of course, employees should not be exposed to draft areas for long period. It is also recommended to not open windows in toilet areas if they are ventilated by internal systems.

In particular in newer spaces and high-rise buildings, if ventilation through windows is not possible, and only air conditioning is available, in addition to cleaning the system, the Office recommends the following:
  • If the air conditioning system has been switched off / out of operation for the last few months, the premises must be ventilated at least 24 hours prior opening;

  • Setting the air handling unit to a lower air flow to ensure continuous operation;

  • Setting the nominal air flow – i.e., air flow

    [m3 /h] - approx. 2 hours before opening the premises (and then decrease to a lower approx. 2 hours overnight / when people leave the office); and
  • Not using rotary heat exchangers if necessary, or ensuring that they do not show any leaks through which exhaust air could escape.

Temperature screening

A special issue worth mentioning is measuring the temperatures of employees and clients/visitors to work premises. The Office issued a guideline for measuring body temperature on 2 April 2020, but this only covers hospitals and industrial enterprises. If the employer intends to measure the temperature of his employees, we would recommend first analysing and consulting this from the personal data protection perspective, not only from health and safety at work. Reviewing and possibly also amending internal documents from the personal data protection angle (especially the preparation of the so-called DPIA) may be required.

It is important to note that the measures currently in place, as well as the guidelines, are subject to constant review by the Office. Thus, the current measures and guidelines should be considered and applied, however we must not forget that the guidelines are recommendations only and are not binding. In any case, all measures taken at the workplace and in connection with returning to the normal work regime should be communicated clearly to employees.


[1] Available in Slovak at http://www.uvzsr.sk/docs/info/covid19/Usmernenie_pre_pracoviska_UPR.pdf

 

 
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