COVID-19 Secure Guidance

The new COVID-19 Secure guidance documents I mentioned in my last update have now been published. They cover 8 workplace settings as opposed to being sector specific. See below for the specific guidance for different settings:

  1. Construction and other outdoor work
  2. Factories, plants and warehouses
  3. Working in other peoples homes
  4. Labs and research facilities
  5. Offices and contact centres
  6. Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
  7. Shops and branches
  8. Vehicles (covering couriers, mobile workers, lorry drivers, on-site transit and work vehicles, field forces and similar)

The guidance applies to businesses currently open and also includes guidance for shops which may be in a position to begin a phased reopening at the earliest from 1 June. Guidance for other sectors that are not currently open will be developed and published ahead of those establishments opening to give those businesses time to plan. The government have also said they will also shortly set up taskforces to work with these sectors to develop safe ways for them to open at the earliest point at which it is safe to do so, as well as pilot re-openings to test businesses’ ability to adopt the guidelines.

The guidance follows a similar structure for all 8 workplaces and sets out practical steps for businesses, focused around 5 key points, which BEIS states should be implemented “as soon as it is practical”. The detail comes back to the general premise that an employer is under a duty under existing Health and Safety legislation to provide a safe place of work.

The guidance states:

  • All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. Those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close should be working, once the employer has confirmed when their workplace will open.
  • Employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their trade unions. If they are not unionised employee representatives should be appointed and collectively establish what guidelines to put in place. The results of the risk assessment should be shared with the workforce. Employers should consider publishing the results of their risk assessments on their website if possible, and all businesses with over 50 employees are expected to do so. Whilst publication is encouraged, employers should be reminded that this is not a legal requirement and that, providing they carry out a suitable risk assessment and, where they have 5 or more employees, they record the significant findings of any such assessment, then they are fulfilling their legal obligations.
  • In line with the relevant guidance, Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people wherever possible, by staggering start times, considering shift systems, creating one way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in canteens.
  • Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, employers should manage the transmission risk. They should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams, minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other. With this in mind the guidance also suggests employers should look to create distinct working groups to minimise the different number of people employees have contact with.
  • Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

A downloadable notice is included in the documents, which employers should display in their workplaces to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace, that they have followed the guidance.

The guidance also addresses the issue of vulnerable workers (but not the extremely clinically vulnerable who are shielding) who are unable to work from home. The guidance states that they should be offered the option of the safest available on site roles, enabling them to stay 2m away from others. If they have to spend time within 2m of others, employers should carefully assess whether this involves an acceptable level of risk taking into account specific duties to those with protected characteristics (so, for example, expectant mothers are entitled to suspension on full pay if suitable roles cannot be found).

The guidance applies to businesses currently open and also includes guidance for shops which may be in a position to begin a phased reopening at the earliest from 1 June. Guidance for other sectors that are not currently open will be developed and published ahead of those establishments opening to give those businesses time to plan. The government have also said they will also shortly set up taskforces to work with these sectors to develop safe ways for them to open at the earliest point at which it is safe to do so, as well as pilot re-openings to test businesses’ ability to adopt the guidelines.

What The Future Workplace Might Look Like

Here, we look at how some work environments are likely to look when they return to work.

Offices
Where possible, office staff will need to continue working from home unless they are in roles that are critical for the business.

Layout should be reviewed to ensure contact is minimised, while staff should work side-by-side or facing away from each other.

Screens should be installed to create a physical barrier between people and floor tape should encourage staff to keep a 2 metre distance from each other.

Hot-desking and shared workspaces should be avoided, while the use of shared equipment should be minimised.

In-person meetings should be avoided. However, if necessary, they should be held in a well-ventilated room with restricted occupancy. Hand sanitiser should be placed in each meeting room.

Employers should keep in touch with staff working from home to monitor their welfare, mental and physical health and security.

Factories and Warehouses
Employers will need to keep staff numbers to a minimum, with those who can work at home, such as office staff, asked to continue to do so.

Equipment, work areas and surfaces will need to be frequently disinfected. Cleaning procedures need to be put in place to ensure shared equipment, such as forklift trucks and tools, are cleaned at the end of each shift.

Staff boarding vehicles or handling deliveries will need to use hand sanitiser.

Hotels and Restaurants
Interaction between workers will need to be minimised, even in busy environments such as kitchens.

Access to walk-in pantries, fridges and freezers will need to be restricted, with likely only one person being able to access these areas at a time.

Contact at “handover” points, such as where food is passed to serving staff or delivery drivers, will also need to be minimised. A physical barrier will need to be created between staff and customers.

In hotels, check-in and check-out times will need to be staggered to prevent overcrowding in reception areas, while room occupancy will need to be minimised.

Outdoor Working
Layouts should be changed so that staff can work further apart, or screens should be installed to physically segregate workers.

If people need to work in close proximity, consistent pairings should be put in place. They should also work side-by-side or facing away from each other, not face-to-face.

Retail Stores
A maximum number of customers in a store at any one time will need to be defined so that a safe distance can be maintained, with customers queueing outside to be let in.

Stores are encouraged to appoint social distancing ‘champions’ to demonstrate social distancing practices to customers and provide guidance to customers on arrival.

No-contact return procedures will need to be established and returned items need to be kept separate from displayed items.

Cashless payments and refunds will be encouraged.

Working in a Vehicle
Companies should reduce the number of people working at distribution centres or depots to a minimum and establish scheduled times for goods collection.

No-contact delivery, loading and refuelling should be put in place, with electronic delivery notes used instead of paperwork.

Alternatives to two-person delivery should be investigated. However, if this is not possible, a fixed pairing system for those who need to work in close proximity should be put in place.

Next Steps

The above guidance is detailed and will be a lot to digest and implement especially for employers who may not have dedicated Health and Safety support on site. However, bearing in mind that the Government have also just announced an additional injection of £14 million for the Health and Safety Executive, which will inevitably boost their resources, employers need be mindful of an increased number of site inspections by the regulator and the need, if asked, to evidence a safe system of work. Any failure to do so could result in employers receiving an enforcement notice which has the ability to prevent companies from operating until specific requirements have been met or, in more extreme circumstances, a criminal prosecution.

I recommend you consider also your workplace insurance policies to ensure you are covered with your plans to re-open.

I anticipate you will face resistance from some employees who may be concerned that the workplace is not safe to return. Tackling this will involve:

  • Ongoing engagement with workers to monitor and understand any unforeseen impacts of changes to working environments.
  • Awareness and focus on the importance of mental health at times of uncertainty. The government has published guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of Coronavirus.
  • Using simple, clear messaging to explain guidelines, using images and clear language, with consideration of groups for which English may not be their first language.
  • Using visual communications, for example whiteboards or signage, to explain changes to schedules, breakdowns or materials shortages without the need for face-to-face communications.
  • Communicating approaches and operational procedures to suppliers, customers or trade bodies to help their adoption and share experience.

I also expect threre will be an increase in employment related claims and employee relations issues linked to the return. These could include concerns regarding H&S, whistleblowing, grievances between staff if social distancing is not being adhered to, deductions from pay linked to phased returns and unfair dismissal claims. There are also employees who will be making requests to work from home on a regular basis.

Other Measures To Consider

Other measures to consider before you return to work include:

  • Workers who sit at desks to work back to back or side to side 2m apart – workers should not sit face to face across desks from each other
  • no sharing of equipment or hot desking
  • regular cleaning, especially communal areas and door handles, surfaces etc.
  • avoiding bottle necks e.g. entrance turnstiles
  • be cautious around the numbers of people in lifts
  • no in person meetings
  • use “one-way” systems in corridors or entrances/exits
  • change shift patterns or rotas
  • staggered working hours

Workers are to avoid public transport – employers are encouraged to provide more bike racks, car parking spaces as well as showers/facilities if people walk/run to work, although expect guidance on this from the government as inevitably as the economy gets moving, the need for public transport use will also increase. There will also be guidance as to how people can use public transport safely and also how transport workers can work safely in this environment.

Where workers are still at home, steps should be taken to check-in with them and ensure their welfare. Also remember that health and safety obligations around risk assessments also apply to home workers.

Wearing face masks or coverings has been the subject of much scientific debate over whether these are effective in stopping the spread of the virus. However, the Roadmap document suggests that face coverings (not PPE style masks) should be used if someone is inside and cannot socially distance (suggesting homemade face coverings such as scarves are acceptable) e.g. at work or on public transport.

Those who are shielding or vulnerable should, for now, continue to stay at home.

Summary

Changes to the current lockdown restrictions are likely to be slow and gradual. They are also likely to fluctuate and stricter measures may be imposed, possibly with very little notice, if there is an increase in cases.

Communication with your staff is key. Keeping people informed of what your business is doing – whether it is good or bad news for individuals – will help them to make their own decisions and give them some degree of security in very uncertain times. Knowing they are valued and supported by their employer – and that you continue to prioritise their health and safety – will be pivotal to their well-being.

Pay specific attention to staff who have particular requirements (e.g. health issues, disability, childcare or other caring responsibilities). They may not be in a position to return as quickly to ‘normal’ working. Be aware that some employees who had a reasonable adjustment before may need a different one on their return to a workplace. Similarly, many individuals who didn’t previously have a mental health condition may have experienced mental health challenges and need to discuss changes to help them overcome any barriers and fulfil their role.

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Coronavirus and COVID-19 Secure Guidance