The pandemic has been a tough time for small businesses, especially those in hospitality and on the high streets.
They’ve faced huge challenges around business continuity and health and safety compliance. And, after months of rule changes, business owners have grown more and more fatigued, sometimes resulting in the deterioration of control measures.
Salford City Council recognised this and decided to take action.
Discover how we joined forces to give local businesses the confidence to stay safe and stay open.
The need for external health and safety support
In October 2020, Salford City Council advertised for suitably qualified and experienced consultants to provide Covid 19-related environmental health advice to local high street businesses.
The council received £230,071 of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the Reopening High Streets Safely (RHSS) project up to the end of March 2021. The purpose of the grant was to support the safe reopening of high streets and other commercial areas by helping to establish safe trading environments for businesses and customers.
Following a rigorous procurement exercise, Vita Safety were awarded the contract to deliver the work, having submitted the most economically advantageous tender in terms of quality and cost.
Working on behalf of the council, we were asked to visit high street businesses in and around Salford, from takeaways and hairdressers to independent restaurants and estate agents. Our primary goals were to:
- Offer personalised advice in line with the government’s new health and safety guidelines
- Provide a detailed report back to the business identifying areas of good H&S practice
Our initial target was 120 site visits by the end of March 2021. Due to the success of the project and the continuing demand, the budget increased slightly and this was changed to 200 visits by June 2021.
An experienced team of consultants
We worked closely alongside Shaun and his Salford City Council colleagues to create a plan and meet the project’s targets. The council’s team included Shaun Clydesdale, Programme Coordinator, Julie King, Lead Practitioner of Food, Health & Safety, and John Snow, Environmental Health and Corporate Health & Safety Manager.
Ian and Jane focused on liaising with the council and creating a plan for the project. Tony put the plan in motion, conducting the majority of the site visits with Mandy for back up.
Engaging fatigued small business owners
The most challenging part of this project wasn’t conducting the site visits. It was convincing these small business owners to let us through their shop doors.
We weren’t members of the council so we had no legal right to enter their premises.
And technically, we were asking them to let us critique their business during a time when health and safety was an inflammatory topic.
Shaun and his colleagues helped us by engaging with Salford’s Neighborhood Managers, asking them to spread the word about the purpose of our visits.
On our side, Tony was instrumental in putting the businesses owners at ease. As a Salford resident, he knew the area well, and this helped him develop a good rapport during preliminary discussions with the shop owners.
Key to this was emphasising that we weren’t regulatory officers nor would we be enforcing any rules. Our sole purpose was to help them stay open and keep trading.
With Tony’s help and the council’s support, we were able to build trust with the businesses, helping Tony and Mandy carry out the site visits seamlessly.
Personalised COVID-19 health and safety advice
During each site visit, Tony assessed the business’ premises, focusing on how the staff and customers were interacting with the environment and each other. The main health and safety areas covered were:
- Signage – door signage for face-covering rules, floor markings for social distancing, hand sanitising and handwashing technique posters, cleaning notifications
- Track and trace – the necessity for a track and trace system for customers to easily record their details
- Cleaning – sanitiser provision, keeping customer and staff touchpoints clean (like front doors and card machines), government guidance on how to clean, toilet inspections
- PPE – when staff need to wear face coverings, the employer’s duty to provide good PPE and enforcing proper use in an effective manner
- Working conditions – good ventilation, comfortable temperatures, wellbeing checks for staff
- Self-isolation – employee awareness for reporting illness and self-isolation
- Training and comms – clearly communicating rules, training on how to enforce these rules, making sure staff feel confident about what the rules are in the workplace
Tony also stressed the importance of documenting risk assessment: a legal requirement for businesses with five or more employees. Even for smaller businesses, it’s still good practice to document the above risk control measures.
Additionally, pictures were taken during the assessments. These records helped us create detailed electronic reports that we sent to the business owners. The report included a score out of 100. This gave the business an indication of how well they’d implemented the covid-19 guidelines (and what more they could do to become covid-secure) as opposed to general health and safety advice.
We also sent a copy of each report to Salford City Council to document the work undertaken and to demonstrate back to the ERDF funding that the service was being delivered. The report wasn’t forwarded to enforcement agencies and this was made clear during each visit.
207 site visits in six months
By June 21st, 2021 we had completed Salford City Council’s revised target of 200 site visits (the total number of visits reached 207).
Our feedback from the site visits indirectly helped the council develop business information packs. This included posters businesses could display on their premises to remind their staff of the necessary health and safety measures to defend against COVID-19.
Salford City Council received some encouraging updates from the small businesses involved in the project, demonstrating how the advice given helped them dramatically improve their health and safety scores.
Tony has since visited some of the businesses and noted how: “The signage has improved considerably and there are a lot more people wearing face coverings.”
Feedback from Salford City Council
We got back in touch with Salford City Council to get their take on working with Vita Safety. Julie King, Lead Practitioner of Food, Health & Safety, expressed how:
“Vita Safety’s input complemented the council’s work beautifully, ensuring businesses received timely support and that we had the time and space to focus on other responsibilities. The service they provided was excellent. They kept us regularly updated, were open to any recommendations, and the traders Tony and Mandy visited really appreciated the support.”
While Shaun Clydesdale, Programme Coordinator, expressed how:
“During focus groups we carried out with local businesses, the majority mentioned Vita Safety’s visits without being prompted. They recognised that the visits had been initiated through the council, which was very positive for us. I think they appreciated the support they received, and there was a noticeable improvement in their health and safety performance.”
Are you a small business owner? Discover how to make your workplace pandemic-safe in our webinar.