We are now in the process of opening up the economy and trying to break away from the Covid-19 crisis. However, we need to do so optimally because there is a trade-off between opening up too quickly and increasing the rate of infections beyond our coping abilities.
It is also clear that continuing a harsh lockdown is taking too much of a toll on the vulnerable members of our community. We need to avoid mishaps, maintain law and order and follow a planned process of opening the economy.
So, what should this planned process look like? What will the optimal approach be based on?
By 'smart' we mean effective but inexpensive, innovative but uncomplicated solutions to minimize the risk of Covid-19 in the workplace. Hence it requires cross-fertilization of ideas from different disciplines: public health experts, clinicians, industrial-organizational psychologists, economists, architects, and engineers.
Lessons from the best practices from around the world, from the guidelines of WHO to Kerala's umbrella solution need to be compiled, customized and tested. Architects and urban planners are already experimenting with innovative solutions in the slums of Dhaka.
Have you considered why countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam have coped better than others? One of the main reasons is that they learnt difficult lessons after the SARS epidemic of 2002-04.
The solutions for workplace safety must have a solid scientific foundation - risk assessment of a workplace and strategies for mitigation must be scientific. The innovations have to be data-driven solutions such that their effectiveness can be measured scientifically (e.g., RCT). Understanding of (social) science of technology adoption and willingness to pay are critical in diffusing such technology.
Can solutions for the RMG industry be applied to the banking sector? Of course not. These need to be contextualized based on sectoral and site-specific risk assessments.
Based on the risk assessment findings, customized protocols for the various sectors – manufacturing, service and construction - need to be developed so that these sectors can start operating by minimizing the risk of contagion. For example, industrial engineers can redesign the factories of the RMG industries to ensure adequate physical distancing with little changes.
Shift of workers can be increased to minimize the presence of workers at the same time. The operation should ensure physical distancing, avoid contact between workers and maintain hygiene.
The workers' flow or movement needs to be properly designed and monitored. There should be protocols during entry to the factory and while they stay. Guidelines should be in place if anybody develops symptoms; psychological counselling is required to elevate workers' morale.
Special equipment such as automatic/foot-operated hand washing stands or disinfection chambers using food-grade disinfectants can be installed at the gate of each floor.
While worker flow solution is needed for factories and for the industries, the service sector requires customer/client flow solutions.
Worker flow solution focuses on keeping product delivery efficient and ensuring worker safety. Customer/client flow solution ensures customer/clients' satisfaction and safety of both customer/client and service provider.
The construction industry, on the other hand, needs to come up with site management protocols. These may include site entry/egress procedures, limiting number of workers on site (crew shifts), maintaining worker hygiene, cleaning tools before sharing, delineating different risk zones within the site, etc.
The construction project schedule needs to be designed in a way so that workers can work in parallel avoiding high labour-intensive functions.
All of the sectors need to have customized protocols if employees become sick from Covid-19. This protocol should include procedures for detecting symptoms, isolating the infected ones and arranging hospitalization if needed.
The huge stimulus package of the government can be tied to the compliance for workplace safety. Adoption of new risk minimizing technology can also be subsidized through the stimulus package.
It is not only financing, building awareness among the entrepreneurs is also critical in successful implementation of such guidelines.
Preparing sector-wise customized protocols for resuming works will be a mammoth task. These protocols have to be approved by the appropriate regulatory bodies of the government.
Private sector can play a key role in helping government develop these guidelines since they have the sectoral expertise.
We know that some private sector firms have already started to market a wide range of solutions to jump-start the economy. These efforts should be encouraged and incentivized by the government in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The author is an Environmental Engineer, MD Esolve Intl Ltd. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org