On 7 March 2022, the newest version of the generic guide – which is aimed at tackling the COVID-19 pandemic in companies – entered into force. This newest iteration of the guide – its eight already – differs from the previous versions in the sense that it’s no longer merely aimed at ensuring safe and healthy working conditions during the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also during possible future epidemics and pandemics.
In order to help companies prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the workplace, a generic guide was created, which provided a general framework of preventive measures that could be taken within undertakings in this respect. The proposed measures in these guides were - as you could probably guess - generic in nature (e.g. wearing facemasks, social distancing, rules on hygiene …), and were meant as a starting point that could be further tailor-made by individual companies or sectors based on their specific needs. As such, several sectors adopted industry-specific guides, an overview of which can be found on the website of the Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue (link to Dutch version / link to French version).
A first edition of the generic guide was published back in April 2020, almost two years ago, and several editions followed later on.
As of 7 March 2022, a new version of the generic guide - its eight iteration - entered into force, named “Working safely during an epidemic or pandemic” (link to the Dutch version / link to the French version).
This latest iteration of the guide gives a new dimension to the previous editions, as this one is no longer solely aimed at combating the COVID-19 pandemic, but is also intended to prevent and tackle future epidemics and pandemics.
As we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the intensity of a pandemic fluctuates in certain downwards and upwards ‘waves’. To cope with those fluctuations, the new generic guide identifies three phases within an epidemic/pandemic:
Vigilance phase (first phase): The first phase is considered to be the basic level of protection and contains the basic preventive measures an undertaking needs to take to contain the further spread of the disease. Cautious and preventive behaviour at the workplace are key during this first phase, which will automatically start when an epidemic state of emergency is declared.
Intervention phase (second phase): The second phase will become applicable when multiple individuals get infected and more stringent measures are required to control an (imminent) outbreak and/or the further spread of an epidemic/pandemic.
Critical phase (third phase): A third phase consists of measures to contain a (widespread) epidemic/pandemic and/or to avoid a full or partial lockdown or closure of undertakings. This phase contains the most stringent preventive measures, to control the further spread of the epidemic/pandemic within the undertaking, sector and the society as a whole.
When the newest generic guide entered into force on 7 March 2022, it started in its first phase; the vigilance phase. Also on 7 March 2022, the government ended the epidemic state of emergency. The new generic guide states that its first phase will end two months after the end of the epidemic state of emergency meaning that, barring a deterioration of the current state of the pandemic, the vigilance phase will in principle end on 7 May 2022.
We all hope that the current COVID-19 pandemic is nearing its end, however, we need to keep in mind that a new epidemic or pandemic in the (hopefully distant) future is certainly not inconceivable. In this respect, the new guide on working safely during an epidemic or pandemic relies on lessons learnt during the last two years to provide a general framework not only for today, but also for the future.
If you have any questions regarding the new generic guide or with respect to health and safety in your organisation in general, don’t hesitate to reach out; we’d love to hear from you.