With lockdown restrictions easing for some businesses, it’s time to start planning how to return to work. But how do we do this safely?
It’s tempting to rush ahead, but without adequate preparation, you could contribute to a resurgence of COVID-19 and put the lives of your team at risk. That’s not a burden you want to bear.
It’s every business owners’ moral responsibility to protect the safety and health of their colleagues, friends and families. To achieve this, let’s look at what’s needed to create a safe working environment for your employees once they return to work.
What areas of health and safety do you need to consider?
To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and protect employees’ wellbeing, there are several safety aspects businesses need to address, each with their unique complexities:
Let’s look at these areas in more detail.
1. Social distancing
You must ensure a two-metre distance is maintained at all times between people to reduce further spread of COVID-19. Here’s what it might look like in practice:
- The direction of travel is marked using indicators in walkways
- One-way walk systems are put in place
- Floor tape marks the safe distance for all employee and customer engagement points
- Unused areas are blocked off
- Colleagues on-site must ideally where possible, work from a fixed location
- Colleagues are responsible for keeping at a safe social distance
- Documents and signatures are processed electronically
- Visitors are asked if extra adjustments need to be made for their visit (in case they or a family member have had COVID symptoms, or may be more vulnerable)
Successful social distancing in the workplace relies on employee and employer efforts. At the heart of it is effective communication – you must be clear when explaining social distancing policies and ensure the information is highly visible.
The general advice for employees is to work at home if they can for the foreseeable future. However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that those who could not work from home should be “actively encouraged to go to work” in England, singling out people in construction and manufacturing.
He further advised that people who can go to work should continue to avoid using public transport where possible. Instead, they should drive, cycle or walk to work if they can.
If employees must get public transport, they are advised to:
- avoid rush hours and busy times if you can
- cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin
- follow advice on staying away from others
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
As an employer, you could encourage your employees to cycle for short commutes. But consider whether your business’ location is within good cycle routes. If it is, creating more space (that meets social distancing requirements) for bikes at work will help you accommodate an increased number of cyclists.
According to WHO, people can contract COVID-19 by touching objects or surfaces that are contaminated with the infected organisms.
This is why cleaning is one of the most important things to get right to keep employees safe at work.
need to pay particular attention to frequently touched areas and surfaces, such
- Hard-backed chairs
- Light switches
- Touch screens
- Remote controls
As your cleaning efforts intensify, so does the risk to those doing the work. So how do you keep cleaners safe?
They need the right equipment and training on how to clean for COVID-19. Gov.uk recommends wearing and discarding disposable gloves each time after cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
Waste should also be disposed of safely – find out more. For non-clinical care settings, waste disposal of PPE may be through standard waste streams (unless there is a potential case of COVID-19), then left for at least 72 hours and disposed of as clinical waste.
Finally, it’s the rest of your workforce’s responsibility to keep themselves and their workstations as clean as possible. For example, they must wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the restroom.
The level of PPE an employee needs depends on their role. Here are some examples:
Colleagues interacting with customers at work:
- Nitrile gloves (replaced after customer interaction) – avoid latex where possible as these can be more likely to cause sensitisation, skin and other reactions
- Face masks (replaced after customer interaction)
- Hand gel
- Cleansing wipes
- Split screens (cleaned at the end of every day)
Non-customer facing employees who are working in the office:
- Hand gel
- Cleansing wipes
PPE supplies need to be installed at key locations throughout the workspace. Because they are currently in high demand, now is the time to contact suppliers and check for availability on fast-moving items such as gloves, masks and hand gel.
Also, businesses need to consistently manage their inventories of PPE supplies to ensure stocks are replenished on time.
5. Mental health
The CIPD rightly states that “employers need to act now to help prevent their employees from being at serious risk of mental ill-health during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Fear of infection, feeling isolated, and concerns over loss of income are the most prominent knock-on effects from the pandemic that are increasing the stress people are under.
A lot of employees will be working at home even after the lockdown is lifted. Here are some ways you can support them from afar:
- Maintaining regular, open and two-way conversations via video calling
- Ensuring your senior team are on the same page and sending the same message to employees
- Keeping an eye out for signs of stress (low energy, headache complaints, irritability, etc.)
- Encouraging healthy habits such as daily exercise and frequent short breaks
Learn more about supporting employees’ mental health.
Protect your business from claims
COVID-19 is now a reportable disease to the HSE, if it is proven that the disease is contracted due to exposure at work, in certain circumstances. You’ve probably seen stories about businesses failing their people with poor health and safety processes, inadequate PPE, poor hygiene practices, and a lack of mental health support. The last thing you need right now is to feature in a similar headline.
The HSE and local authority may make visits to check the arrangements you have in place in response to the risks associated with COVID-19.
You need robust processes in place as soon as possible. Only then can you effectively communicate your processes and rationale should there be a suspected health and safety violation.
However, focusing purely on COVID-19 means you might not be managing your other health and safety risks properly. With the clock ticking, how can you keep your people safe from the virus and all the other risks associated with your business?
Professional support gets you back in business safely
Vita Safety have developed further guidance and risk assessments to ensure all health, safety, fire and property risks are considered for back to work plans. Work with us and you can expect to gain:
- Robust processes for the core safety areas (for COVID-19: social distancing, cleaning, commuting, PPE and mental health. For general health and safety: fire safety, electrical safety, fixtures and fittings, repairs and replacements, etc.)
- A Risk Assessment specifically for your business’ processes (which not only covers protecting staff from COVID-19 but can also accounts for all other risks)
- Training and effective communication to bring teams up to speed quickly with new processes
- Audit and monitoring of implementation to ensure any issues are identified and rectified
- Processes to ensure training and communication is documented
This way, you don’t lose sight of general health and safety risk management while protecting your employees against the virus.
Professional support from a health and safety expert ensures you cover all your responsibilities. Let us keep your people safe while you concentrate on keeping the business strong.