From Wednesday 13th May 2020, the Government advice for England has changed, and those people who can’t work from home are actively encouraged to return to the workplace.
The following guidance and best practices can also be used in other areas of the UK, however check devolved guidance first.
If you can work from home, you still should.
However for industries including construction, manufacturing, logistics, food take-aways etc it’s likely employees will return to the workplace. However this provides a challenge to employers who have a duty of care to employees to manage the risks of the Coronavirus COVID-19 which is still prevalent.
This article does not replace official advice which is constantly under review and changing. Please check the UK Government links below first:
- Working Safely During Coronavirus COVID-19 [Guidance by Industry].
- Our plan to rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy
Risk Assessment Methodology
As with any occupational health & safety issue, a risk assessment should be conducted to understand who could be harmed and what controls you as an employer can put in place to mitigate that risk.
The threat from Coronavirus is not like any other risk employers face in a normal setting and it will require additional controls or changes to work routines which may cause activities to take longer than usual.
The HSE provides risk assessment templates and tools which can help.
Work From Home Risks
Many organisations have utilised working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic and while that is still safer than returning to a work location, there are risks you should consider.
- Is the home environment safe and secure?
- Does individual have adequate workspace (Ref: DSE Regulations) including:
- An adjustable chair,
- Table top,
- Adequate lighting,
- Screens Away from glare,
- Does the employee need any additional equipment:
- Writing/Laptop Slope,
- Second Screen/Monitor,
- Detachable Keyboard/Mouse,
For employees working from home or onsite mental health issues should be considered and risk assessed including:
- Anxiety about the Coronavirus Risks,
- Concern for vulnerable relatives,
- Isolation and Loneliness.
Many of these risks can be mitigated through a Mental Health First Aider scheme or by organising regular peer check-in meetings online.
Making information clear and easily available can also help to alleviate anxiety about the situation.
ReOpening a Site
Whether you are returning to a construction site, warehouse, retail unit or office there are some steps you should take before you begin to operate the site as normal.
Walk the Site Looking for Risks
Things may have changed since you left, for example:
- Theft, Vandalism or Intentional Damage,
- Disrepair of roofs and facilities,
- Rodents or other Pests,
- Stagnant water (Legionella Risks)
Deep Clean & Sanitization
Thoroughly clean the site before employees, third-parties or the public return, and implement new, regular cleaning routines that include sanitization of:
- Door Handles,
- Desktops (including receptions, point-of-sale),
- Buzzers, intercoms, lift-buttons,
- Kitchen Areas,
- Toilet Areas.
System Maintenance & Records
Some maintenance routines may have lapse, check these including:
- Fire Detection Systems & Alarms,
- Fire Extinguishers,
- Emergency Lighting,
- First Aid Box / Eye Wash Contents,
- Lifting Equipment including Forklifts, Hoists, Shutters (LOLER),
- Air Compressors,
- Ladders, Steps, Access to Heights,
- Machine Guards and Emergency Stops.
Ensure that basic welfare is available including:
- Running Water,
- Toilet & Hygiene Supplies,
- Waste Streams including hygiene waste,
- Sanitizer Stations, Soap, Tissues.
Commuting & Travel to Site
The journey into work could put employees at risk. Ensure that you only ask employees to return to the work location if it is absolutely necessary.
Stagger Return Dates
You may not need all staff to return to site at the same time, consider staggering the return dates.
Stagger Start Times
To prevent close contact at the start and end of shifts, consider staggering employee start times.
Restricting Movements Between Sites
If you operate more than one location, limit the number of people moving between those sites at any time.
Provide sanitizing facilities and perhaps temperature checks when staff (or others) enter the site.
Record who has been onsite for contact-tracing should it be necessary.
It is still advised that people physically distance from others outside their houses, this includes work colleagues.
Redesigning Work Spaces
Where possible work spaces should be redesigned to allow employees to work in an area at least 2 meters away from anyone else.
Movement of People
Pathways to each workspace and communal facilities should allow the 2 meter distance to be maintained when entering or leaving the space.
You may consider implementing a one-way system if there is more than one staircase / corridor / access route.
People in Vehicles
Limit the number of people in a single vehicle where possible. If you do need to have more than one person in a vehicle, limit the contact and implement PPE such as face coverings/masks.
Adapting Working Processes
Review work processes and identify any close contact or risks of spreading the Coronavirus.
Work processes may need to be redesigned to enhance physical distancing or allow for additional sanitizing of equipment. This may increase the time each process takes.
Cleaning & Sanitizing
The cleaning of your site should be reviewed and may need to be adapted to allow more regular sanitization of surfaces, restocking of sanitization stations, PPE and on.
Make hygiene products including sanitizer and tissues available throughout the site. Provide bins with adequate capacity to dispose of tissues or other waste.
Ensure the cleaning routine is adapted to empty bins and replenish stations.
You may consider temperature checks for people entering the building. This can be done using a non-contact thermometer or heat scanner.
An increased temperature may indicate illness, including Coronavirus. Anyone displaying symptoms of Coronavirus should be asked to isolate.
Ensure that welfare facilities including toilets, rest areas and canteens are available and can be used safely, maintaining social distancing etc.
Visitors, Deliveries & Third Parties
Restrict visitors and third parties to site wherever possible.
Most meetings can be held remotely using technology. However if a meeting must be held on site, for example a regulator or authority visit, maintain physical distancing and apply the controls you have identified in the risk assessment for employees.
If couriers and delivery drivers need to attend site, make arrangements to limit the contact with the driver. Review any goods-in area.
As with other third parties, ask about their updated work procedures, for example contactless deliveries.
Consider the personal risks of individuals who may be vulnerable to the virus themselves or have contact with vulnerable family members.
Consider moving these people to other roles to reduce the risk.
Signage & Communication
It’s important to communicate any new work procedures or controls clearly to employees and third parties who might be affected.
Consider signage including clear symbols which can be universally recognised.
Use other methods of communication including a company newsletter, intranet site, messaging system. You may also use a call-cascade method to feed information down through teams/departments.
Controlling the return-to-work risks should be managed like any other occupational risk, and a full and thorough risk assessment should be conducted.
The UK government has issued industry specific guidance for many key areas of the economy and this is likely to be updated and evolve as time goes on.
This article was published 13th May 2020, using guidance and best practice at the time.
Managing Coronavirus Risks at Work