Venezuela: National and Local Governments Publish New Standards on Biosecurity

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The Venezuelan government has extended to July 11, 2020 its State of Alert declared on March 13, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under this State of Alert, employment operations are suspended except for companies that render essential services, those that are able to render services remotely, or those that were allowed to gradually reopen under the flexibility plan the government implemented.1 

Per the Venezuelan government, all companies must strictly comply with biosecurity recommendations to remain open and provide services. However, these recommendations are set forth in very few published standards and without guidelines about how to implement them. It is therefore uncertain whether officials checking on employers’ compliance with these recommendations will do so in a uniform and predictable manner.  

These are the biosecurity standards published by the national government or local government bodies:

  1. On June 1, 2020, the Ministry of Health published a Resolution with the following general and special safety and health standards for companies:

MATTER

STANDARDS

RECOMMENDATIONS

Use of Mask

It is mandatory, but it can be fabric and reusable. The reusable masks must be washed and ironed daily.

Health employees must use a disposable mask.

It is advisable to provide two or more reusable masks per employee.

Social Distancing

At least 1.5 meters.

Avoid meetings, visits, and travel, and implement video conferencing. In-person meetings at the workplace must not exceed 10 people.

Elevators must indicate the number of people allowed.

Avoid sharing tools for personal use.

These standards must be put in writing in a protocol as part of a health and safety program developed by the Health and Safety Service, and with the Health and Safety Committee’s approval.

Employees must be notified in writing of any risk of contagion at the workplace, as well as the prevention measures.

Handwashing / Respiratory hygiene

Frequent hand washing.

Use soap and water, or hand sanitizer.

Use disposable tissues for coughing or sneezing or the inside of the elbow.

The frequency recommended for hand washing is before leaving and arriving home, arriving and leaving work, before and after eating and using the toilet, as well as after coughing, sneezing, and touching potentially contaminated surfaces.

Disinfecting

Disinfect – twice a day – the workstations and work tools.

Use soap and water, 0.1% hypochlorite or 70% alcohol solution.

Avoid mixing hypochlorite or alcohol solutions, as this could be toxic.

Notify the personnel in charge of disinfecting and all employees about the risks of using chemical substances, and how to avoid them.

Protective equipment should be provided to the personnel in charge of disinfection.

Protective Equipment

Companies should provide hygiene supplies such as: reusable masks, liquid soap, disposable tissues, disinfectants, hand sanitizer, and closed containers or bags for waste.

The personnel in charge of disinfecting the workplace should have the equipment to protect their eyes and skin from any chemical substances used.

Telework

Promote and implement remote work and telework.

An agreement must be signed.

Workplace/work time

Establish flexible schedules to reduce employees' density at workplaces; allow employees to attend workplaces near to their home to avoid long commutes.

Avoiding closed spaces without ventilation.

It is advisable to extend the lunch hour, and allow employees to take turns to keep physical distance between each other and reduce the number of people per table; it is advisable to remove any furniture that is not being used to avoid having surfaces that might be contaminated.

Suspected or confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis

Restrict access to people with symptoms related to COVID-19.

Notify authorities about vulnerable employees with contagion symptoms or who maintain such symptoms for more than three days.

It is advisable to use digital infrared thermometers –because they are less invasive– to take the temperature of employees entering the company premises. If not available, it is recommended to use a conventional thermometer.

Agree on a suspension with employees who are at risk of COVID-19 contagion or who have a confirmed diagnosis.  

Sanctions

The resolution does not establish a fine or injunctive sanction for non-compliance. However, if companies do not comply with the standards, they cannot continue to render services.

  1. Companies that are based or located in Libertador Municipality, at Capital District known as Caracas, must also follow other standards incorporated by the city ordinance the City Council issued on June 11, 2020. These standards are:
  • Employers must implement social distancing (1.5 meters) measures by erecting separation barriers in waiting areas.
  • Employers must publish a poster at their establishments with the following text: “Entry to these facilities is not allowed without the use of masks, by the standards of the National Government and the city ordinance on this matter.” The poster must include a symbol of a mask.
  • Employers must provide soap and water or sanitizer dispensers at the establishment.
  • Employers must disinfect the establishment, at a minimum, at the beginning and at the end of the workday.
  • Food companies must subject their employees to medical examinations if they exhibit contagion symptoms, as well as exclude them from food handling.
  • Food stores must guarantee the disinfection of food, wrap it in plastic, and separate unprocessed food from that ready for consumption.
  • The city markets must guarantee the disinfection of the employees’, vendors’, or customers’ footwear and baskets used for purchase.
  • Transportation companies (especially those used to move employees) must guarantee the daily disinfection of the vehicles, a maximum occupancy limit (50% of its capacity for mass vehicles and 3 passengers for cabs), and implement a physical barrier between the driver and the passengers.

Unlike the Resolution of the Ministry of Health, the city ordinance does establish sanctions for its non-compliance such as fines, community work, awareness talks, and temporary closure of the establishment for up to 15 business days.

If companies want to remain open and continue providing services, they should follow the aforementioned standards as well as the health and safety at work law and regulations to avoid sanctions from the health and safety body. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that a "new normal" requires companies to adapt to changes and develop a new outlook to maintain their operations and their employees’ health.

 

Footnotes

The following entities and events were allowed to resume at a reduced capacity/hours: opticians, bookstores, electronic equipment repair and manufacturing shops, sporting events without spectators, gyms, registries and notary offices (only on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), courier mail services, textile and footwear industry, laundries and dry cleaners, veterinary offices, car washes, ice cream and coffee shops, drive-in cinemas, banking agencies, medical and dental offices, construction industry, hardware stores, hairdressers, chemical raw material industry, workshops and sale of auto parts, personalized services (i.e., plumbing), and transport.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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