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As Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, prepares to open up after being on lockdown for over a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic, health and safety concerns of workers have come under the heavy spotlight.

It is important to take a measured approach to ensure all employees do not return to work, infect or get infected so as not to jeopardise the frailty of the current battle against the virus.

For employers whose employees have to return to work, the five safety and health approach below are just a few steps to note before throwing those doors open on Monday, May 4, when full activities are expected rev back to life in West Africa's most populous city.

The 5 approaches include:

  1. Hazard elimination, which means keeping employees at home, a strategy that works for some, but not others, and won't lead to full economic recovery.

  2. Personnel substitution, in this case initially bringing back just those key staff members who need to be physically present to get and keep the business running.

  3. Engineering controls, including healthy-building strategies such as increasing the flow of outside air, using portable air purifiers, and swapping existing filters in air circulating systems for the ones that can capture smaller particles.

  4. Administrative controls, such as de-densify buildings by having portions of the workforce come in on alternate days or staggering shifts within a day or week. This might also include spreading workers out in space and limiting the use of conference or meeting rooms for large gatherings.

  5. Use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as the now-familiar cloth face coverings, face masks, respirators, and other gear in common areas and situations where other controls don't achieve the required level of safety.

Though these five approaches are not foolproof for mitigating any disaster, the guidelines constitute a relatively low-cost roadmap for employers tinkering with the idea of bringing people back to work.

We should not assume any one action will provide complete protection, but it's rather a matter of understanding and managing risks, not just putting a mask on everyone who walks through the door.

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