Whilst the Government has extended the restrictions put in place to combat COVID-19, it is never too early to start planning to return to work. Having a mobilisation plan in place should ensure that when restrictions are lifted businesses are in a stronger position to resume operations and support the UK economy. Here at Jacksons we are putting in place measures so that when restrictions are eased, we can get our teams back to work.
Employers are required by law to protect their employees, and others, from harm. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the minimum that an employer must do is:
- identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
- decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
- take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this is not possible, control the risk
Assessing risk is just one part of the overall process used to control risks in a workplace. For most small, low-risk businesses the steps you need to take are straightforward. The coronavirus presents a hazard to employees and controls should be put in place to keep employees and others safe. Employers should undertake a risk assessment prior to staff returning to the workplace and identify any additional controls measures which may be required. For workplaces which are not healthcare environments, these controls should be relatively simple to identify and implement. For example, ensuring social distancing, provision of hand washing facilities or hand sanitisers, etc. The Health and Safety Executive provides some practical advice on risk assessments on their website. If you already have a risk assessment in place, then it should be much easier to modify it to meet any new guidance which is issued.
Staff should be reminded to wash their hands regularly using soap and water for 20 seconds and particularly after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing. Where facilities to wash hands are not available, hand sanitiser should be used. Such facilities should also be made available to visitors and delivery drivers when required. Workers should cover any coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then dispose of the tissue in a bin and immediately wash their hands. At Jacksons we have supplemented our hand wash facilities with hand sanitisers located around the office. We have also placed notices at the entrance to the office and around the building as reminders to staff and clients.
Social distancing should be observed in the workplace wherever possible with staff and others maintaining 2m distances. This advice applies both to inside the workplace, and to where staff may need to interact with customers. If you ask three people what 2m looks like you will get three different answers, so it is helpful to have some visual guides in the workplace. Many supermarkets have installed floor markings illustrating the 2m distance and in the work setting, this helps staff and customers maintain the 2m distance, particularly in the most crowded areas (for example, where queues form).
The Government guidance states that where it is not possible to remain 2 metres apart, staff should work side by side, or facing away from each other, rather than face to face if possible. However, where face-to-face contact is essential, this should be kept to 15 minutes or less wherever possible. Employers should ensure as much as possible, that they keep teams of workers together (cohorting) and keep teams as small as possible. At Jacksons we have ensured that 2m distances are maintained and workstations are equipped with screens to provide additional protection.
For customer-facing businesses consider the use of signage to direct customers to queues or lanes whilst maintaining a 2m distance. Regulate entry of customers to the premises to prevent overcrowding. Place signage at the entrance explaining these requirements and advising customers who may have symptoms not to enter. At receptions and other areas facing customers consider installing plexiglass barriers as an additional protection for staff and customers (where customers might touch or lean against these, ensure they are cleaned and disinfected as often as is feasible in line with standard cleaning procedures). At Jackson we have purchased several portable plexiglass screens for use in reception and face-to-face meetings which are necessary, such as signing documents etc.
Where it is not possible for work to be completed at home, businesses should consider shift working or the staggering of processes which would enable staff to continue to operate both effectively and where possible at a safe distance (more than 2 metres) from one another. Staggering on-premises hours to reduce public transport use during peak periods will provide benefit to employees, businesses and the wider public effort. The Government is encouraging businesses to consider:
- splitting staff into teams with alternate days working from home, or splitting across a day and night shift
- as far as possible, where staff are split into teams, fixing these splits (cohorting), so that where contact is unavoidable, this happens between the same individuals
- spreading out standard processes, so that only one team needs to be on the premises to complete a task at a given time
- where it is possible to remain 2 metres apart, using signage such as floor markings to facilitate compliance, particularly in the most crowded areas. This includes entry points to buildings, toilets, and communal break areas where queues may form
Businesses working on shift patterns should:
- ensure that the business’s social distancing measures are effectively communicated to all staff
- ensure frequent cleaning and disinfecting of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products and particularly at the end and beginning of shifts.
In respect of staff canteen and rest areas, the Government recommends that staff are encouraged to bring their own food and that meal breaks are staggered so that social distancing can be observed.
Staff should continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe systems of working in relation to handling post and packages; there are no additional precautions needed for handling post or packages.
It is expected that the Government favours a phased approach to relaxing restrictions so businesses should regularly check the advice for updates.
Industry Specific Guidance
The Government has provided specific advice for certain industries including:
- Shops running a pick-up or delivery service
- Tradespeople and working in people’s homes
- Manufacturing and processing businesses
- Logistics businesses
- Outdoor businesses
- Farming: visiting farms for animal health and welfare
- Fishing or other short-term offshore work
- Cargo-shipping or other long-term offshore work
- Transport businesses
- Waste management businesses
Where workplaces have been unoccupied for extended periods and water systems have not been in regular use or flushed, there may be a risk of legionella. Wherever possible, taps, toilets and other parts of water systems should be flushed regularly to reduce the risk of water stagnation which could encourage the growth of biofilm. Before employees return to work, flush the water system and consider testing for the presence of legionella. Remember that testing results can take 10 days so this should be undertaken in advance of returning to work. Further information on the management of legionella risks can be found in the HSE Approved Code of Practice L8.
Good ventilation should be observed in workplaces to reduce the risk of stale and contaminated air. Air conditioning systems should be set to full fresh air mode where possible, disabling the recirculation for heat recovery. This will ensure that any contaminated air is not circulated. A technical guidance note has been issued by REFCOM.
Employees will be concerned about returning to work after a prolonged period of restrictions and employers must ensure that staff are aware of the measures taken to ensure their safety. Businesses should regularly communicate with staff on the steps taken to prepare for returning to work and address any other concerns raised by staff.
If you require further advice or support for your business, please contact one of the team at Jacksons.