The government has recently released new COVID-19 secure guidelines (Guidelines), which set out a number of objectives and steps for businesses (those permitted to be open) to follow, in order to ensure that the workplace is as safe as possible for employees.
All organisations owe a duty of care to their employees and it is critical they give proper consideration to the Guidelines to allow them to make informed decisions on how to safely operate during the Covid-19 crisis. The Guidelines cover different types of work places and you may need to consider more than one guide.
It is important to note that the Government’s advice still remains that anyone who can work from home should continue to do so. However, for those at work or returning to work, one of the key objectives for organisations is to reduce workplace risk to the lowest possible level, by taking preventative measures.
In this article we touch on the key matters raised under the guidance that will affect all types of organisations including some practical advice on how to make your workplace safe.
The Guidelines operate within current health and safety and employment laws, and provide that employers should undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment in consultation with their workforce/trade unions to establish what processes to implement. This risk assessment will consider the possible threats facing their employees and visitors and the ways in which these threats can be reduced to a minimum.
The Guidelines state that the results of any risk assessment should be shared with the workforce and it is expected that for businesses with 50 employees or more, it should also be published on their website.
Once a risk assessment has been carried out and preventative steps have been implemented, businesses should display a standard notice in the workplace to demonstrate they have followed the Guidelines.
Communicate all COVID-19 procedures to employees
The Guidelines set out that employers should provide clear communication to all staff about Covid-19 related safety procedures. In order to ensure that communications are recorded and consistent, businesses may wish to consider preparing documentation for staff to help them understand the measures taken by the organisation, and what they should be doing to protect themselves, their colleagues and anyone else they may come into contact with within the normal course of their duties.
It may be helpful to provide training to managers and those employees who will be responsible for the implementation or monitoring of the new health and safety procedures. This will help ensure that the processes put in place will be understood and followed by all staff.
Practical steps to ensure increased safety
We have provided a few further practical steps for businesses below, some of which are echoed in the guidelines.
1. Getting to Work
You may want to ask if any of your staff use public transport to travel to work. If they do, you may want to consider a temporary change to their working hours so they can avoid busier commuting times.
2. Teams and Shift Patterns
If you do not currently operate a shift system you may wish to consider temporarily implementing one. This could include dividing staff into smaller teams across departments. You should try to limit your employees’ interactions with different groups of people as much as possible and by creating sub-teams and a shift pattern to minimise the number of staff in one location at any one time, this can be easily achieved.
It is however crucial, that if there will be any shared use of equipment, the business takes steps to ensure thorough and regular cleaning of surfaces and communal areas.
3. Inside the Workplace
There are steps which businesses can put in place to help reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 including:
a. Maintain the two-metre social distancing.
Wherever possible you should redesign work spaces and methods of operation to try and achieve this.
b. Wearing face coverings.
In certain circumstances, you may wish to encourage employees who are in open plan settings to wear face coverings. These could include allergy masks, DIY face masks or even a scarf. The Government website provides information as to how these can be made.
c. Keeping indoor spaces well ventilated.
You should open windows wherever possible and ensure indoor spaces are kept well ventilated.
d. Introducing wash-stations.
These could be placed in entry and exit areas of the building. Staff should however, also be encouraged to frequently wash their hands throughout the day. You should also provide hand sanitiser and signage to promote handwashing.
e. Re-arranging work-stations.
In addition to the 2m social distancing rule, the Government have published guidance that evidence has shown transmission is less likely to take place when people are sat side by side rather than opposite each other. You may therefore wish to consider this when reorganising your work spaces.
You should also avoid hot desking and the sharing of desks.
f. Make use of meeting rooms.
Many businesses will have empty meeting rooms and you should make the most of these when possible by using them as extra work stations for staff to ensure the 2m distancing.
g. Introducing one-way internal systems.
A one-way walking system can help prevent cross over and close contact between employees.
h. Cleaning communal areas frequently.
All businesses should ensure they are providing cleaning products to wipe down door handles, printers, toilet facilities, kitchen areas and any other communal areas frequently and thoroughly throughout the day.
You may also want to consider restricting the use of high-touch surfaces such as whiteboards and printers.
4. Identifying vulnerable employees
It may be sensible to prepare a list of those individuals who are considered vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable in accordance with the government guidelines. This will help you provide additional advice and support to these individuals. Equally this information will assist with your overall planning and will highlight any adjustments that may be required.
It is critical that business review the guide(s) that apply to their workplaces and consider these in full. BHW Solicitors can provide advice and assistance with your plans to make the workplace Covid-19 safe, returning employees to work, managing homeworking arrangements and much more.
If you have any questions or need any assistance, then please contact Amanda Badley on 0116 402 9019 or email [email protected].