The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live and work in the UK, and as we begin returning to normal new complexities have to be considered. For small businesses, this can seem daunting but fortunately there are a number of ways to make your workplace COVID-19 secure.
Any office that does reopen has a responsibility to keep their workers safe by stepping up cleaning, implementing social distancing measures, and providing any protective guidelines where necessary.
In this article, we will explore ways in which you can reduce the risk of transmission and keep workers as safe as people on their return to the workplace. There is also a wealth of information on the government and HSE websites.
What Are The Guidelines on Social Distancing in the Workplace?
The main thing to consider is that as an employer you should make it as easy as possible for your staff to maintain a 2m distance from one another at all times. These social distancing measures should be in place throughout the working day, and in all areas of the workspace. This includes entrances and exits, breakout spaces, dining spaces, and bathrooms.
Most of the work needed to make sure your workspace is COVID-safe should take place before reopening. Some different methods to enforce this could include:
- Entering and Exiting Work - Stagger arrival and departure times, increase the number of entry points, provide handwashing hand sanitising facilities at entry and exit points.
- Moving Around the Office - Discourage non-essential trips around the building, introduce a one-way system using floor markings much like in supermarkets, and regulate the use of frequently used areas. At break times encourage workers to bring their own food to avoid canteen use and stagger break times.
- Using Desks - Change layouts to increase the distance between workers, avoid hot-desking and shared equipment, encourage side by side or facing away working where it’s not possible to maintain distance.
- Arranging Meetings – Continue to make use of video conferencing as you would at home, ensure any attendees are absolutely necessary and meetings are held in well-ventilated rooms. Provide hand sanitiser and even hold meetings outdoors if possible.
- Face masks - According to government advice, evidence for the benefits of face masks is weak. There is no legal requirement to wear them.
In a situation where social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, you should consider whether that activity needs to take place in order for the business to continue operating. If not, it is not worth the risk. Additionally, if your business premises do not need to be reopened in order to trade and it is possible for your workforce to continue to work from home, this remains the preferred method.
Measures to Take Before Reopening your Offices
1. Carrying out a Risk Assessment
As an employer, you have a duty to assess and manage any risks to your employees’ health and safety.
You also have a legal responsibility to protect them. This means carrying out a risk assessment to address the specific risks presented by transmission of the disease, and establishing measures to mitigate those risks. The government expects this from all employers with more than 50 employees in their offices.
If your office is smaller than a 50-person office, it is advisable that you still do a risk assessment for your own records to refer back to, and for peace of mind that you are doing your utmost to keep your workspace safe.
2. Ventilation Checks
It’s vital that your workspace is well-ventilated. When your workers return, make sure to open windows and doors as often as possible.
If you work in a building where you do not have control of the ventilation systems, consult with the building management.
It is also advisable to check whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems.
3. Emergency Situation Planning
Accidents or emergencies present exceptional circumstances for employers and employees. If following social distancing would result in more harm – for example, if the building needed to be evacuated because of a fire – then people don’t have to stay 2m apart.
4. Cleaning the Office
After social distancing, cleaning is one of the next most effective measures you can take to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
Some steps that can be taken are to increase the frequency of cleaning of shared equipment or areas, such door handles or printers, use signs to remind workers to clean surfaces and objects after use, use disposable paper towels instead of hand dryers and clean surfaces regularly using normal household disinfectant.
5. Handling Deliveries and Orders
Companies are advised to overhaul their current pick-up and drop-off collection points, introduce spaces where keeping social distancing measures is possible and make sure they are followed with signage and markings. The government also says that, when safe to do so, single employees should unload or load vehicles. Further, it is advisable to restrict non-business deliveries, for example, personal deliveries to workers.
6. Is Your Team Happy To Return To Work?
It is important to ensure the happiness of your workers, by checking if everyone is comfortable returning to work. In any circumstances, a happy workforce is essential to business success.
Summary – The Key Factors to Consider
- Increase the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning.
- Use screens or barriers to separate people from each other, if the office is larger.
- Use back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible.
- Provide hand sanitiser in meeting rooms or at certain points throughout the office.
- Reduce the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others).
- Conduct a risk assessment before you allow your employees back.
- Identify any employees who could be especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and consider them individually.
- Use remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings, if possible.
- Provide clear, consistent and regular communication to improve understanding of Covid-19 security measures.
- If your business can continue to work remotely, do this as much as possible.
- Continue to monitor the situation; make sure that staying open is still permitted and that controls remain relevant.
Remaining agile enough to react to local developments will help to give your business the best chance of staying compliant and profitable well into the future.
It is likely that lockdown might have changed the way you work permanently and evolving your business in this way is a good thing. You may hold more Zoom meetings with clients, allow staff to work more flexibly by giving them the choice to work from home more often, or have better measures in place to accommodate for staff taking sick days.
If you are looking to start a business during these ever-changing times, then establishing a structured business plan is the ideal first step in your venture.
All our help can now be delivered through our new video-based consultancy service, enabling us all to comply the government’s current COVID-19 advice. But as usual, please do not hesitate to contact our expert team using the form on the right or by calling 01604 420 420.