2 October 2020

On 23 September 2020, the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) issued an updated advisory on “Requirements for Safe Management Measures at the Workplace” (“Advisory”). The Advisory is aimed at minimising the risk of widespread re-emergence of Covid-19 in the community by introducing enhanced safe management practices at workplaces. The requirements in the updated Advisory took effect from 28 September 2020 and are meant for general workplace settings. There may be sector-specific requirements for certain workplaces like construction worksites and shipyards, where additional requirements may apply. Further guidance on the Advisory is set out in the “Frequently Asked Questions on Safe Management Measures at the Workplace After Circuit Breaker Period” (“FAQs”).

The Advisory was first issued on 9 May 2020 by the Tripartite Partners, which comprises MOM, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation. Prior to the 23 September 2020 update, the Advisory was last updated on 1 June 2020.

Agencies including MOM, the Building and Construction Authority and Enterprise Singapore will continue to enforce and take action against errant employers. These may include issuing stop-work orders and financial penalties.

This article provides an overview of the safe management measures set out in the updated Advisory.

Take care of workers

Actively enable employees to work from home

The updated Advisory provides that work from home remains the default mode of working. However, from 28 September 2020, employees who are able to work from home may return to the workplace to better support work and business operations.

  • For employees whose jobs can be performed from home, employers must ensure that they continue to do so for at least half their working time. This is to limit employees’ exposure at the workplace. For example, a full-time worker with a six-day work week will now be allowed to be in the office for up to three days in a week. Return to the workplace can either be initiated by the employee and agreed upon with the employer, or directed by the employer. The FAQs state that work or training done outside the workplace will be regarded as time spent at the workplace and contribute towards the cap of half their working time that they are allowed to spend at the workplace. 
  • In addition, employers must ensure that no more than half of employees who are able to work from home are at the workplace at any point in time. This will help to limit the number of workers exposed at the workplace at any point in time, and reduce crowding in common areas such as pantries, toilets and lifts. For example, an employer could split its employees able to work from home into two equal teams. Each team will alternate between work from home and the workplace on a weekly basis. 
  • Work-from-home measures should also be implemented in a sustainable manner that enables employees to maintain work-life harmony while continuing to meet business needs.

For employees who are still unable to work from home, the Advisory continues to provide that employers should review work processes, provide the necessary IT equipment to employees and adopt solutions that enable remote working and online collaboration. Employers are encouraged to leverage technology to ensure business continuity and safe management.

Companies should continue to conduct virtual meetings as much as possible. Physical meetings between employees and with suppliers or contractors should be minimised, e.g. by using tele-conferencing facilities.

In addition, companies should pay special attention to vulnerable employees (e.g. persons who are aged 60 and above, and patients who are immunocompromised or have concurrent medical conditions). This could be done by enabling them to work from home or temporarily redeploying them to another role within the company.

Measures to be implemented for employees at the workplace

For employees at the workplace, employers must ensure the following precautions are in place:

  • Stagger start times and allow flexible workplace hours: This will spread out staff across time and place, and reduces possible congregation of employees at all common spaces at or near the workplace, including entrances, exits, lobbies, canteens and pantries. It also reduces congestion of people in public places, including public transport.

Employers should stagger the start times for all employees such that at least half of all employees at the workplace start work in the workplace at or after 10am, as far as possible. This would enable more employees to avoid peak-hour travel, especially if they require the use of public transport. Timings of lunch and other breaks should also be staggered accordingly. Employers should also allow for flexible workplace hours for employees who can work from home but who return to the workplace. This is not to shorten work hours, but to allow flexibility to reduce the duration spent in the workplace while also working from home during the day. By way of illustration, employers could allow a proportion of their employees to work in the workplace from 10am to 4pm and work from home the rest of the time; employers could also allow their employees to work from home in the morning, and only return to the workplace in the afternoon, e.g. from 1pm to 5pm; or return to the workplace only for meetings and work from home the rest of the day.

If it is not feasible to implement staggered start times, flexible workplace hours, and staggered break hours due to operational reasons (e.g. manufacturing production line activities), employers must implement other systemic arrangements to reduce congregation of employees at common spaces.

  • Implement shift or split team arrangements: For suitable workplace settings, employers must split employees at workplace premises into teams, with each team restricted to one worksite wherever possible. No employee should work in more than one team or worksite.

There should be no cross-deployment or interaction between employees in different shifts, teams or worksites, even outside of work. Employers must ensure 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.

If cross-deployment cannot be avoided (e.g. due to the nature of the job), additional safeguards must be taken to minimise the risk of cross infection.

  • Requirements for work-related events at the workplace: All work-related events that proceed at the workplace must adhere to prevailing workplace safe management measures and are subjected to the following requirements:
    • The number of persons per event must be capped at 50 persons to limit the risk of exposure to infection.
    • Attendees must maintain at least one metre safe distancing between individual attendees, in accordance with the requirement at the workplace.
    • Food and drinks should preferably not be served at workplace events. If deemed necessary for practical reasons to serve meals, individuals must be seated and served individually and minimise contact with one another while eating. Meal durations should be kept short to minimise the period that individuals are unmasked, and the meal should not be a main feature of the event.

The FAQs state that companies are only allowed to hold work-related events within the company’s own workplace premises. This refers to places where the organiser ordinarily carries out its activities or businesses.

Minimise socialising

Employers must not organise or encourage social gatherings (e.g. parties, birthday celebrations and team bonding activities) within or outside the workplace.

Employers must ensure that employees adhere to the permissible group size based on prevailing guidelines on social gatherings at the workplace (e.g. at common spaces such as staff canteens, pantries, water coolers, vending machines and smoking corners), including during meals or breaks.

The FAQs state that socialising with colleagues in the same shift, team or worksite, in groups within and outside of the workplace is permitted, subject to prevailing community social gathering rules and group size limits. Safe distancing of at least one metre should be maintained between groups at all times.

Wear masks at the workplace

Employers must ensure that all onsite personnel, including employees, visitors, suppliers and contractors, wear a mask and other necessary personal protective equipment at all times at the workplace, except during activities that require masks to be removed. Masks will have to be worn immediately after the activity is completed.

Employers should ensure that they have sufficient masks for all employees, including any need to replace masks more frequently due to workplace conditions. Where possible, employers should consider improving the working environment for employees to enable them to sustain wearing the masks.

The FAQs state that if an individual is alone in his or her own office with the door closed, and no other person enters the room, the individual may remove his or her mask in the room. If the room door is opened or if there is any contact with people, a mask must be used. 

Observe good personal hygiene

Employers should encourage their employees to observe good personal hygiene, e.g. wash their hands regularly and refrain from touching their face.

Take care of the workplace

Control access at the workplace

Employers should continue to control access at the workplace to only essential employees and authorised visitors, and must use the SafeEntry visitor management system to record the entry of all personnel (including employees and visitors) entering the workplace. All employees and visitors should check-in and check-out of workplaces using SafeEntry to help the Ministry of Health (“MOH”) in establishing potential transmission chains.

Personnel who are unwell (including having a fever upon temperature screening) must be refused entry to the workplace. Visitors who are unwell should be asked to reschedule their appointments to another day when they are well, or be served via alternate means.

Employers must ensure that employees and visitors must declare via SafeEntry or other means (e.g. electronic or hard copy records), before being allowed to enter premises, that they:

  • are currently not under a Quarantine Order, Stay-Home Notice; 
  • have not had close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case in the past 14 days; and 
  • do not have any fever or flu-like symptoms.

Take precautions to ensure clear physical spacing of at least one metre

Where physical interaction cannot be avoided, precautions should be taken to ensure clear physical spacing of at least one metre through physical means and demarcation of safe physical distances (at least one metre apart) using visual indicators, where possible, in the following situations:

  • between all persons at meeting rooms, work areas, and workstations; and 
  • at all times during work-related events held at the workplace.

Other requirements

The following stipulations in the previous version of the Advisory continue to apply:

  • ensuring that employees adhere to MOH’s prevailing travel advisory; 
  • requiring the suppliers and contractors of employers who are service buyers to implement similar safe distancing measures; 
  • minimising the need for physical touchpoints; 
  • stepping up cleaning of workplace premises; and 
  • providing cleaning and disinfecting agents at certain areas. 

Take care of workers who become unwell at the workplace

The measures set out in the previous version of the Advisory relating to taking care of workers who become unwell at the workplace continue to apply. These include:

  • ensuring regular checks for temperature and respiratory symptoms for all onsite employees and visitors;
  • encouraging employees to download and activate the TraceTogether app; 
  • actively monitoring unwell employees and guarding against incipient outbreaks; and 
  • measures relating to managing unwell and confirmed cases.

Implement a system of safe management measures

The measures set out in the previous version of the Advisory relating to the implementation of safe management measures also continue to apply. These measures include:

  • implementing a detailed monitoring plan to ensure compliance with safe management measures and timely resolution of outstanding issues; and 
  • appointing safe management officer(s) to assist in the implementation, coordination and monitoring of the system of safe management measures at the workplace. 

Reference materials

The following materials are available on the MOM website www.mom.gov.sg:

Further information

Allen & Gledhill has a Covid-19 Resource Centre on our website www.allenandgledhill.com that contains knowhow and materials on legal and regulatory aspects of the Covid-19 crisis.

In addition, we have a cross-disciplinary Covid-19 Legal Task Force consisting of Partners across various practice areas to provide rapid assistance. Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at covid19taskforce@allenandgledhill.com.