Opinion

Returning to the workplace | Working safely during COVID-19

Published: 25th July 2020
Area: Corporate & Commercial

Returning to the workplace | Working safely during COVID-19

The prime minister announced that employers can start to bring their employees back to the workplace from 1 August 2020, providing that it is safe to do so.

The pressure is therefore on for businesses to comply with the government’s safe working guidelines and ensure that social distancing and hygiene precautions are fully implemented in places of work.

Many businesses are struggling with where to start and how to implement the changes in order to adapt to this new abnormal.

Here we highlight six measures to make the workplace as safe as possible and the changes employers will need to make.

1. Carry out a risk assessment

As part of the risk assessment, you must:

  • Identify any work activity or situations which might cause transmission of the virus;
  • think about who could be at risk;
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed; and
  • act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk.

It is important to consult and involve people in the steps you are taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in your workplace.

Our guide to recovery and resilience highlights practical suggestions to consider to ensure you’re compliant with health and safety regulations.

2. Social distancing

Where possible people should be kept two metres apart. If this is not feasible, keeping workers one metre apart with risk mitigation is acceptable. Things that can be done to aid this process are:

  • Use floor tape or paint to mark work areas.
  • Provide signage to remind people to keep a two metre distance.
  • Use screens to create a physical barrier between people.
  • Have people working side-by-side rather than face-to-face.
  • Limit movement of people in high-traffic areas like corridors, turnstiles and walkways.
  • Allow only essential trips within buildings and between sites.

Hot-desking should also be avoided and you may also need to adjust working times for those using public transport to avoid peak periods.

Remote working should be encouraged to reduce face-to-face contact - read our guide on the practical considerations for employees when employees work from home.

3. Protect vulnerable workers

The Public Health England guidance states that some groups of people may be at more risk of being infected and/or have an adverse outcome if infected. Therefore ensure controls such social distancing, good hygiene and cleaning, ventilation, and supervision are applied stringently and communicate regularly with any vulnerable workers to ensure that they feel protected.

Some pregnant workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They may have received a shielding letter from the NHS advising them to stay at home where possible and that they are not expected to be in the workplace. Employers will need to take this into account in their risk assessment[15]. If you cannot put the necessary control measures in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, you should suspend the pregnant worker on paid leave. This is in line with health and safety regulations.

4. Hygiene

Steps need to be taken to ensure that additional hygiene practices become commonplace in the office. Hand sanitising units and antibacterial wipe dispensers are essential in combatting the spread of infection. Organisations will need to ensure that there are handwashing facilities with running water, soap and paper towels. Use signs and posters to help your workers to practice good handwashing technique.

Make sure that surfaces remain clean, this may mean increasing the level and frequency of cleaning, as well as cleaning surfaces that you may not ordinarily clean.

5. Clean equipment frequently

Set clear guidance for the use and cleaning of toilets, showers and changing facilities to make sure they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible, and clean work areas and equipment between uses. Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly. If equipment such as tools or vehicles are shared, then clean them after each use.

6. Communal areas

Review the communal areas used in your business such as canteens and think about physically moving tables and chairs so they are two metres apart. It might also be a good idea to stagger break times so that people are not using break rooms, canteens, rest areas or changing facilities at the same time and can, therefore, more easily maintain social distancing.

Where this is not possible, create additional space for people to take their breaks in and use outside areas for breaks if the locations are suitable and it is safe to do so.

Prepare for the future

It is important that employers take these necessary steps now, with a view that they will need to be implemented for the indefinite future.

Investing in these preparations properly will not only protect employees, but will also minimise the risk of financial impact from absence or closure. By taking the correct measures to keep staff safe and business functioning, future impacts of an extended pandemic or new waves of infection will be minimised.

Contact us

As the furlough scheme starts to gradually wind down, and the restrictions around social distancing continue, you’ll need to consider what adjustments need to be made before bringing your employees back into the workplace.

In addition to the health and safety measures, you’ll also need to consider updating or implementing policies and procedures, such as one for remote working - our guide to recovery and resilience addresses those key people-related questions, challenges and opportunities.

If you need advice or guidance on how to prepare for the safe return of your employees to the workplace, contact a member of your local employment team.

From inspirational SHMA Talks to informative webinars, we also have lots of educational and entertaining content for life and business. Visit SHMA® ON DEMAND.

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