Posted on: 29 May 2020
Work safety during the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic
On Sunday 10th May 2020, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that many people in the UK could return to work if they couldn’t work from home and if it was practical and safe to do so.
We have previously looked at some of the measures that a construction business should implement to work safely, but with the rules set to lift for more industries in the coming weeks, we are giving guidance on how office-based businesses could operate to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Keeping your office or contact centre safe for your team
Following the announcement from the Prime Minister on 10th May 2020, the Government released information for offices and contact centres.
As a business owner, you will need to effectively manage the risk of coronavirus at your business to ensure that your staff remain safe whilst at work on your premises. Some of your staff may have anxieties about returning to work, so putting the right measures in place will help. Here are some of the steps that you can take to limit the spread of coronavirus:
Encourage regular hand washing
Soap is an effective killer of coronavirus, as it contains alcohol-based sanitisers. Ensure your handwashing areas are adequately stocked with soap or hand sanitiser. Use posters and regular communications to encourage the team at your business to regularly wash their hands and use hand sanitiser. If possible set up a handwashing station near the entrance to your premises to limit the virus entering your business from the outside and impacting your staff whilst they are at work.
Social distancing has been in effect since the start of the lockdown and should be introduced in your workplace, where possible until further government advice allows otherwise.
Social distancing means keeping everyone at least two metres away from each other at all times. This might mean you have to reorganise the furniture and desks in your office to accommodate social distancing. If you are limited on space, you might need to consider reducing the number of staff that are at your premises at any one time to comply with these measures. For further clarity of social spacing in communal areas, you may consider using floor markings or tape as supermarkets have.
When social distancing isn’t possible…
It might be difficult to follow all social distancing measures. If this is the case, consider implementing the following to keep the virus from spreading:
- Frequently clean surfaces
- Shorten activities as much as possible
- Use barriers or screens to separate people
- Change layouts so people work side-by-side or back-to-back rather than face-to-face
- Introduce regular teams or partnering so that the same people are working shifts
What if these conditions can’t be met?
If it is impossible to meet these social distancing conditions, then the government's advice is to instruct your workers to either stay on furlough, which has now been extended until October 2020 or to continue to work from home.
Who should be back at the office or call centre?
The government guidance states that if a member of your team can work from home, they should be working from home. Those staff that could return to the office are the following:
- Members of the team in roles such as operational continuity, facility management or regulatory compliance who cannot fulfil these aspects of their role from home.
- A member of your team who has been unable to perform their role from home, due to lack of equipment or home circumstances.
Before you allow these members of staff back, you should first check how many people you can practically have in the office at any one time, have a member of staff who can monitor their wellbeing throughout this period and provide PPE for those who have come back to work.
To enable your staff to social distance in the workplace, you can implement some of the following measures to control the spread of COVID-19.
Entering and exiting premises
Stagger arrival and departure times for your teams so that entrances and exits don’t force people to come into close proximity. If possible, close off some parking spaces, whether this is for cars or bicycles, so that people aren’t too close to each other on arrival at the site.
If there is more than one entrance to the site, use all of these to ensure that people don’t come into contact with each other. You could perhaps use one for entrance and the others for exits. You should have clear signage to ensure that people know which is an entrance and which is an exit, as well as signage and markings around the office to allow your team to move around without coming into close contact with each other.
If you have touch-based security systems, such as numbered keypads, implement other security measures that don’t require touch, such as a keycard. If this is not possible, ensure that there is plenty of hand sanitiser nearby so that your team can disinfect after using the keypad.
To keep your teams safe at their workspace, take a look at these ways in which you can keep your team distanced and safe at work.
- Review the layout of workstations to see if it is practical to have your team working 2 metres away from each other.
- Mark out 2-metre gaps on the floor using tape or paint to help your team see how far away they need to be from each other.
- If a 2-metre gap isn’t feasible, consider rearranging desks so that your team aren’t working face-to-face.
- Consider using plastic screens to separate workstations so that the virus can’t spread.
- Only have enough staff in the building to allow members of staff to work whilst maintaining the advised social distancing. The more staff that you have in, the harder it is to observe social distancing, meaning that the virus can spread easier.
- Don’t allow hot-desking, and instead ask your team to stick to one workstation, thoroughly cleaning it down after every use.
- Meetings should be avoided if possible, consider using video conferencing tools instead. If a meeting is essential, participants should be 2 metres away from each other at all times and hand sanitiser should be provided in the room.
Social distancing should be observed in all communal areas, including kitchens, break rooms and smoking areas.
Stagger break times so that fewer people spend time together on breaks, reducing the chances that the virus can spread between people.
You should also encourage your team to bring their own food, rather than relying on a business canteen or a local food establishment where the virus can be transferred and spread.
Visitors, customers and contractors
Best practice announced by the government is to minimise the number of unnecessary visitors to your business.
Contractors should be encouraged to work from home where possible. If this isn’t possible, they should also observe social distancing rules whilst visiting your business to ensure that they don’t spread the virus to your team, or vice versa. If you employ contractors to carry out essential maintenance on your premises, they should be scheduled for outside normal working hours and social distancing should be maintained.
Any planned visitors to your business should be limited and instead, wherever possible, they should be contacted beforehand and encouraged to get in touch via digital channels rather than make an actual visit to your business. Where this isn’t possible, ensure that they are following social distancing measures.
You should also make a record of a visit if there is any need for future tracking. This could be as simple as using your usual visitor’s book.
If a member of your team is coming into contact with any visitor, make sure that they are supplied with PPE, as this will protect both your employee and the visitor.
In the services industry, some businesses, such as accountants, estate agents and marketing agencies may rely on a face to face relationship with their customers, however, at the moment it isn’t safe to have these kinds of meetings.
You should, therefore, encourage customers to get in touch with you either over the phone or arrange a video call. There are many free online meeting apps like Whatsapp, Skype or Zoom, that can facilitate a virtual face-to-face meeting.
It is important that any social distancing or cleaning measures that you implement for your staff should also be enforced on any other type of visitor to your business. If possible, communicate these measures to your visitors before they visit your premises.
Cleaning your workplace
Since the government forced the lockdown of non-essential businesses, your premises may likely have been unoccupied for many months. Ensuring that your business is clean for your employees is vital in keeping them safe and healthy. Use the following steps to clean your office to a suitable standard before you welcome back your staff.
Before bringing staff back
Before you bring large numbers of people back into the business, you should do the following:
- Check if your ventilation systems need servicing. They should be fully operational to allow air to flow freely out of the building, potentially removing COVID-19 particles from the air.
- Have a site manager visit the premises and open the windows, again releasing COVID-19 particles from the building. They should also check that any systems and utilities that have been turned off are back up and running.
- If you think it is needed, hire a commercial cleaner to come and sanitise your whole building and its contents before bringing staff back.
Cleaning should be a high priority when your employees come back to work, in both communal and workspace areas. Everything from desks to door handles should be thoroughly cleaned with cleaning agents with antiviral properties.
Any rubbish that has been touched should be put into a separate, clean bag before being placed into the main rubbish bin.
As we have mentioned many times, hand sanitiser should be readily available to all colleagues to ensure that hands can be kept clean. Hand sanitiser isn’t just for the bathroom. Spread it out across both communal areas and workspaces.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE can keep people at your business safe. Face masks are one of the most popular articles of PPE for individuals, as they are beneficial in trapping the virus with an infected person thus reducing the likelihood of spreading the virus.
Businesses aren’t required to provide this kind of PPE for employees, but it might be worthwhile having a stock of PPE for your team to help them feel more comfortable and protect them in the workplace.
You should observe some of the following steps when using a face mask:
- Wash your hands before and after putting on a mask
- Continue to wash hands thoroughly
- Change the mask if it has become damp or if you have touched it
- Change the mask every day
- Wash the mask if it is designed to be washed. If not, dispose of it safely by placing it in an additional bag before going into your main waste.
Sending and receiving parcels
Try to limit the amount of post that you bring into the business or send out. Instead opt for digital communications, such as sending an email rather than a letter.
In regards to deliveries, consider whether or not is it vital to take the delivery and cancel any unnecessary deliveries. For example, if someone comes to fill up a vending machine, cancel this delivery as a non-essential service.
When receiving a package, encourage the delivery worker to drop off the package and leave promptly, allowing social distancing to be effective. Use one member of staff as the designated parcel receiver to limit the number of people that come into contact with someone from outside.
At the moment, these measures outline how a business can reopen in the current stage of coronavirus control.
This advice could change depending on whether or not the government decide to continue to ease lockdown or reintroduce stricter measures until they have deemed it safe to allow the UK to return to normal.
For the most up-to-date guidance, visit the UK Government Coronavirus website, here.
Business support from Premierline
To help you and your business during these unprecedented circumstances, Premierline has taken some steps to ensure that we can continue to offer our award-winning service.
All Premierline employees are now working from home, but our teams are equipped to be able to answer your questions and help to support your business whilst the coronavirus pandemic continues. We have published answers to many frequently asked questions and contact details on our customer information page.
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Business Guidance26 May 2020
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