Back to sharing a booth?
In August the Belgian federal government announced that many measures to get the COVID pandemic under control would be eased as of 1 September, followed by further restrictions being lifted from 1 October onwards. Within our association, and in light of the uncertainty amongst interpreters and clients alike, the question arose whether we needed to update last year’s Post-COVID Recommendation. As it is in the interest of all that everybody can work in a safe environment, the CBTI’s Interpreters’ Commission studied the matter.
The situation is still pretty complex so this is quite a long post. The headline summary for those with no time to read all of it: a quick and carefree return to a shared booth is not on the cards just yet.
Social life and life on the work floor is steadily ‘getting back to normal’. For conference interpreters that means, among other things, sharing a booth with a colleague. Conference interpreters typically work together in a team of two in a mobile or fixed booth. Sharing such a small space with someone else became impossible overnight as of March 2020. Since then, interpreters have had to adapt and work from separate booths, from a hub or from home.
Part of the discussion among members when preparing a revision of our recommendation was about vaccination status. However, since vaccinated people can still spread the virus, this is not really the key issue here when we think of health and safety at work. Imagine two vaccinated interpreters sharing a booth. One is infected. Chances are they would infect their vaccinated colleague when sharing a small booth with little ventilation for several hours.
There remained the question of whether last year’s CBTI recommendation (Recommendations post-COVID / Post-COVID-aanbevelingen) needed an update. The Interpreters’ Committee checked the document against the current legislation, the Generic Guide for combatting the spread of COVID-19 at work (https://werk.belgie.be/sites/default/files/content/news/Generiekegids.pdf) and protocols developed by the events industry together with the FPS Employment (https://event-confederation.be/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/210709_Protocol-Events_V25_FR.pdf#page2).
As a general rule for freelancers working on the premises of another company, it is the host’s duty and responsibility to inform contractors about the current rules in place. Where the interpreter is hired as a subcontractor through a colleague or an agency they should pass on that information to the interpreter.
The general advice in the workplace is still to continue applying social distancing (1.5m) as much as possible. In a standard mobile 2-person booth (2.54m2) that is not feasible. If a booth is large enough to maintain 1.5m distance from your colleague and there is sufficient ventilation, it might be possible to go back to sharing a booth safely. The safest option for the time being, however, still remains for the interpreters to work from separate booths.
Air quality and ventilation
Social distancing is one thing. Another hot topic being discussed extensively among experts and in the press is air quality and ventilation. The importance of proper ventilation is stressed in the Generic Guide:
“Ventilation and aeration
Ensure adequate and regular ventilation of work areas and social facilities, either by natural ventilation (e.g., by opening windows or doors) or mechanical ventilation. If a space in which several people are present is not ventilated or is insufficiently ventilated, then the aerosols carrying the virus (these are droplets, so fine that they remain airborne) can contaminate these people, even if they keep their distance and wear a mask. The smaller and more enclosed the space, the greater the risk of virus transmission.”
How do you know that the ventilation is sufficient and the air quality is good?
The Code on well-being at work cites a maximum of 900ppm of CO2. In order to determine that value, you would need an air quality sensor inside the booth. It is the host or the event organiser’s responsibility to provide air quality sensors for all separate rooms used for the event. Where the CO2 value exceeds 900ppm, the host or organiser needs a ventilation action plan. If the value exceeds 1,200ppm, the site should be evacuated.
Finally, the Event Confederation’s exit protocol does not mention interpreters or booths specifically. It does state, however, that actors or speakers at events cannot share a dressing room or green room. Logically, that would also mean that interpreters cannot share an interpreting booth.
As mentioned in the beginning, the situation is still pretty complex today. Based on current legislation and recommendations from federal and regional governments and industry organisations, the Interpreters’ Committee has updated the CBTI’s 2020 recommendation to reflect the new rules on ventilation and air quality. The new recommendation 2021 can be found here. The epidemiological situation is changing gradually. When further measures are lifted or eased, the Interpreters’ Committee will update its recommendation to reflect that.
https://werk.belgie.be/sites/default/files/content/news/Generiekegids.pdf, consulted 5 October 2021
https://event-confederation.be/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/210730_Exitprotocol-Events_V26-nl.pdf, consulted 8 September 2021
https://aiic.org/document/4842/AIIC%20best%20practices%20voor%20tolken%20tijdens%20de%20COVID-19-crisis%20-%20NLD.pdf, geraadpleegd 8 september 2021
https://werk.belgie.be/sites/default/files/content/documents/Welzijn%20op%20het%20werk/Regelgeving/Codex%20boek%20III%20titel%201%20Basiseisen%20betreffende%20arbeidsplaatsen.pdf#page15, geraadpleegd 8 september 2021