More testing, better housing conditions a must

by AZREEN HANI / Pic by BERNAMA

COVID-19 testing among workers should be increased and implemented once every fortnight to prevent workplace clusters, especially in factories, from recurring.

Infectious disease consultant Datuk Dr Christopher Lee told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently that it is also vital for employers to start investing in better housing conditions — as it has been proven that overcrowding is a major factor of widespread Covid-19 infection.

“Testing should be stepped up and preferably on a regular basis, like weekly or twice monthly. This may be done by a random surveillance type of testing (sampling of workers) or it could be regular testing for all workers,” Dr Lee said.

To save cost, he proposed for the pooled testing approach to be used, but noted that big companies, which normally have occupational safety units, will find that they have the expertise, but the issue will be the cost of the measures.

“However, money spent upfront will help their businesses stay open in the long run,” Dr Lee said, adding that smaller companies may not have the expertise.

They, however, can bring in outside assistance and that the cost of implementation of testing may be cheaper due to a smaller workforce.

Last week, TMR reported that several manufacturing facilities have become the latest breeding ground for Covid-19 infections.

To make matters worse, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M Saravanan also found that 90% of accommodation for foreign workers provided by their employers nationwide did not comply with the Workers’ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990 (Act 446).

Dr Lee said factories and other sectors involving large numbers of workers in proximity with each other will always be likely to cause a cluster, especially if masking and social distancing is difficult, or not adhered to.

“We must engage meaningfully with employers and workers to improve masking and social distancing in the work setting. Guidelines may have been given, but how much they can be applied in the real world would depend on the infrastructure and situation on the ground.

“To properly implement these guidelines, it may require adjustments and re-engineering of work processes and physical layout, and this can only be done by the employers with input from the workers,” he said.

On living conditions, particularly for foreign workers, the health expert said creating a “bubble” system will also reduce the risk of widespread infection.

“It is a must for employers to start investing in better housing conditions to improve hygiene and avoid overcrowding,” Dr Lee said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia said they are in the process of completing the investigation paper, and a total of 22 charges will be opened against Brightway Holdings Sdn Bhd and Biopro (M) Sdn Bhd due to various offences under the Minimum Standards for Housing, Accommodation and Facilities of Employees Act 1990 (Act 446).

Eight charges will be opened for La Glove (M) Sdn Bhd. The total number of charges to be opened against Brightway Holdings and its two subsidiaries bring to a total of 30 charges.

All investigation papers are in the final stage of preparation before being submitted to the prosecutor, the department added.

Prior to this, the department said it will take legal action against several companies, including the world’s largest glove manufacturer, Top Glove Corp Bhd, after the discovery of squalid housing conditions for its migrant labourers.

The move came after enforcement operations were carried out on Top Glove’s operations in Perak, Kedah, Kelantan, Negri Sembilan and Johor.

 

Read our previous report here

Factories are new hotbed for Covid-19 infections