This week has seen perhaps the most significant step change for many businesses since the beginning of lockdown more than 12 months ago, with further easing of COVID-19 restrictions from Monday, April 12.
And as shops, hairdressers, gyms, and hospitality businesses re-open their doors, more employees will also be returning to factories, warehouses, building sites and offices. Many employees have been working at their sites throughout the pandemic, but the shift of bringing back thousands of the workforce who have been working from home is starting to begin if the workplace is appropriately COVID-secure.
Business owners and employers have an obligation to protect their staff from harm and in some cases also make sure it is safe for customers to return, so measures must be taken to ensure the safe return of staff and customers, which is for many a new and overwhelming prospect.
This article provides a quick breakdown of some of the steps you can take and provides links to resources to more detailed Government guidance.
Although restrictions are beginning to ease, it is important to remember that, at present, there are no changes to social contact, meaning social distancing of two meters should still be adhered to.
Rearranging desks and workstations or implementing one-way systems can help to ensure you can adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Use screens between workstations if possible, too.
Make it easy for people. Take it out of the abstract. Two meters is approximately three steps.
Wherever workplaces are struggling to implement two meter social distancing, consider offering continued home working arrangements in the short to medium term, perhaps on a rotation basis, to limit the number of people in your workplace.
Implement shift working, alternating start and finish times and working in teams to limit contact between employees and keep any contact more easily traceable.
Cleaning and sanitising
It’s important that stringent cleaning and sanitising processes are applied and more regular cleaning, especially of frequently used surfaces takes place. Consider installing accessible cleaning and sanitising stations, particularly in entry and exit points, and providing personal hand sanitiser for all staff.
Provide additional handwashing facilities if you can, perhaps utilising kitchen spaces, and ensure ample hand wash and paper towels are provided. Also, encourage as much as you can more regular cleaning of hands throughout the day.
Do not forget to provide wash points or sanitising stations for any visitors to your place of work, including postal workers and delivery drivers, for example.
Ventilation and air transmission
According to HSE England, adequate ventilation reduces how much virus is in the air and helps reduce the risk from aerosol transmission.
Try to increase the natural air flow through your workplace as much as possible. Open windows and doors and install or implement air conditioning systems to make sure you maintain a constant supply of fresh air.
Where possible, use outdoor areas for breaks and even meetings.
And remember, face coverings are still a legal requirement in most indoor settings unless exemptions apply. If you can, provide face coverings for all your staff.
Do remember that face coverings are designed to protect other people, not the wearer, so social distancing measures must still apply.
Entry and exit and movement around the building
COVID-19 is a contact virus, so applying one-way systems, closing off or restricting common areas or any obvious bottle necks or meeting points and using additional entrance and exit points to and from your place of work. This can be helpful in limiting transmission.
Take all the necessary precautions as far as visitors to your place of work are concerned – insist face coverings are worn, provide hand sanitiser or wash points and if possible, assign a separate visitors entrance to make the process more manageable.
You can also use the NHS Test and Trace app to keep a record of visitors and contractors to the building.
It seems obvious but talk to your staff to make sure they understand and are comfortable with any new measures and why they’re necessary.
Signage and floor markings provide easy reminders for any new workplace rules or restrictions and are particularly useful in common areas like rest rooms and kitchen areas, as well as thoroughfares like corridors or stairways.
Consider morning email briefings to reinforce messages around new measures and always try to make sure you promote new measures as positively and constructively as possible. The measures are designed to protect your staff, not inhibit them.
Communication is also important to ensuring the wellbeing of your staff upon returning to the workplace. Many may be feeling anxious about the transition, it’s important you listen to their concerns. The Government has published guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of Coronavirus.
Working Well co-ordinator at Knowsley Chamber, Lorna Marshall, says: “We have been working with business owners and employers over the past year to try to reduce the pressure presented by COVID-19 and the many related restrictions and regulations.
“It is a bit of a minefield, and it is unchartered territory for pretty much all of us. It’s understandable that business owners are feeling overwhelmed.
“Working Well are not the legislators. Nor are we an authority on COVID-19. We simply aim to clarify and demystify what is often a confusing process for the businesses we work with through clear guidance and signposting.”
Sue Norton, director at JC Construction, is signed up to the Working Well programme. She said: “Working Well has been so supportive to me during the COVID pandemic. They were on hand to help us put in place COVID-safe procedures and highlight access to workplace testing and other available support.
“The pandemic has been a difficult time for all businesses, but to have the support of Lorna and the wider team at Working Well, just to be able to ask questions, has greatly helped keep our staff safe and allowed us to continue delivering essential services to our customers.”
Over the last 12 months, the Working Well programme has supported businesses in Knowsley with COVID-specific resources, such as outbreak management, workplace testing and how to become COVID-secure.
As well as support with workplace practices, there is also a £500 grant available for SMEs with 2 -249 staff members who are geographically based in Knowsley.
During the pandemic, the Working Well grants have been focused on COVID-recovery, with an emphasis on mental health.
For more information on our Working Well programme or to find out how you can benefit, please contact Lorna directly via email Lorna.Marshall@knowsleychamber.org.uk
Links and resources:
Making your workplace COVID-secure during the coronavirus pandemic (hse.gov.uk)
Offices and contact centres – Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)