With essential workers returning to their roles, there has been a call for instructions on how businesses can keep their team safe from COVID-19 on their return. The government released sector-specific guidance about what employers should do to minimise the chances of catching coronavirus at work.
Giving a breakdown of information for those in construction, factories and warehouses, offices, restaurants and shops, vehicles and workers who require access to properties.
Here are the key points to follow if you are making your current office Coronavirus safe.
Complete a Risk Assessment
Every employer is required by law to protect their employees and others from harm, which includes identifying potential hazards. In this case, potential hazards include areas which would be in breach of current social distancing rules. Clear communication is important, so ensure to speak to your team. Most importantly discuss the risks with a chosen health and safety representative chosen by a recognised trade union or chosen by your team.
You cannot decide who the representative will be as an employer.
You can use a Risk Assessment Template (.Doc Download) to help you keep a simple record of:
- who might be harmed and how
- what you’re already doing to control the risks
- what further action you need to take to control the risks
- who needs to carry out the action
- when the action is needed by
An example of an office based business risk assessment can be found here.
Reducing the Risk
After completing the assessment you should be able to move onto reducing the risk for the lowest reasonably practicable level. First and foremost ensuring in every workplace an increase in the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning. Keeping 2m apart wherever possible, but if the business cannot continue following these guidelines take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff. This includes:
- Increased hand washing and surface cleaning
- Keeping activity time involved as short as possible
- Using screens or barriers to separate people
- Replacing face-to-face contact with back-to-back or side-to-side
- Reducing the number of people each person comes in contact with
No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.
So if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period-of-time, you will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead.
Is Going Back to the Office Necessary?
One thing is still clear that if you can work from home you should. But, there are necessary exceptions to the guidelines for those who are needed on site. Such as members of the team with roles critical for business and operational continuity, safe facility management or regulatory requirements.
Of course, it encompasses roles which cannot be performed remotely at all or workers in critical roles without the necessary safe enabling equipment.
When you consider your office you have to plan for the minimum number of people needed onsite to operate safely and effectively.
Whilst monitoring wellbeing for both on-site and off-site team members. Providing the necessary equipment for those working at home.
The objectives laid out in the guidelines are designed to help protect those who are at a higher risk, people who need to self-isolate and ensure equality in the workplace.
In the day-to-day working environment of, course members will be travelling to and from the workplace.
On the commute we should all minimise non-essential travel, limit the number of people travelling together and ensure any shared vehicles are properly cleaned before any handovers.
Social distancing should be employed wherever possible, as mentioned before this means increasing handwashing measures and limiting face-to-face interactions. Social distancing applies to all parts of a business including entrances and exits, break rooms, canteens and communal areas. Some of the important measures listed include:
- Using safe outside areas for breaks and meetings
- Implementing floor signage, floor tape or paint to help maintain social distancing
- Install screens for receptionists and desk workers who can’t be moved further away from each other
- Avoid Hot Desking
- Reconfiguration seating and tables to maintain social distancing
- Storing personal items and clothing in lockers or containers
- Staggering break times to reduce overcrowding in break-rooms or canteens
- Encouraging staff to bring in their own food,
Should we all be wearing masks?
The official guidelines from 11th May state that unless you are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 is very high “Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 outside clinical settings or when responding to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19”. Followed by “However, if your risk assessment does show that PPE is required, then you must provide this PPE free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly”.
This means that it is the risk assessment which deems the use of PPE necessary and up to the employer to supply proper protection to the team members if PPE is required.
The New Normal
Before returning to work your team are going to have a lot of questions moving forwards. They want to ensure that their working environment is safe and you’ve done everything in your power to keep it that way. This is why communication is important.
New safety procedures will be put in place to keep everyone safe, so anyone confused or anxious about coming off the furlough scheme and returning to work needs to have a direct line to voice their concerns.
Companies should ensure that they have communicated to their team the new procedures before their arrival at work. Also any training materials required have been sent prior.
The virus has had a large impact on the physical and mental health of the public, so clarity, tone of voice and understanding are essential.
Use simple, clear messaging and use frequent signage as a constant reminder of schedule breakdowns etc. To minimise face-to-face communication.
All business owners should keep up-to-date with the guidelines as they change. The restrictions and procedures are due to change as the virus fluctuates. For up-to-date information go to Gov.Uk.
Ensure to read the full guidelines before moving forwards. As this article is a brief synopsis of returning to work within an office environment.
Remember to Stay Safe.