Coronavirus lockdown restrictions are being lifted across the country and the government is encouraging businesses to reopen. Employers are charged with reviewing their business practices and putting in place measures to ensure employees, customers and visitors can return to work as safely as possible.
In this series of blog posts we will outline key principles that employers within different sectors must consider in order to ensure their businesses can reopen safely and limit the risks of COVID transmission to staff, customers and visitors. These principles apply to UK government guidelines but offer equally useful guidance for businesses worldwide.
This post outlines the general principles ALL sectors must consider. We will then delve more specifically into the following sectors: office working, guest accommodation businesses, food businesses and factories.
COVID-19 Risk Assessment
Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees, staff and visitors from harm. This includes protecting those who come in contact with your business from coronavirus. Businesses in all sectors must review their current workplace risk assessment in light of the changes to risk posed by coronavirus. A specific COVID-19 risk assessment should be conducted to document what steps you will take to mitigate the risks to your staff.
This risk assessment should examine the potential activities within your business which could cause the transmission of the virus and how likely specific individuals are to be exposed. You can then document actions you intend to take to minimise or remove these risks.
Your risk assessment should detail the corresponding mitigation actions such as increasing hand washing and surface cleaning, keeping working activities to minimal time periods, reducing the number of people within fixed teams, adding screens and barriers and moving to back-to-back or side-to-side working.
You should also have a policy for those who feel unwell to follow including: reporting to management and self-isolating according to government guidance. As an employer you should consider all risks and, where they cannot be mitigated reasonably, make a judgement as to whether the related activity should be allowed to take place at all. The UK Health and Safety Executive states that ‘no one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment’ and it is your duty as an employer to support your staff accordingly.
Clearly documenting your Risk Assessment is crucial for your own diligence and to allow for the consistent and regular review and implementation of measures taken.
Method Grid is the ideal place to document your assessments and related mitigation actions and policies: to ensure they are shared and regularly reviewed, particularly as guidance changes over the coming months.
Below are some key ways you can manage risks in any work place:
- Ensure anyone involved with your business who feels unwell stays at home
- Increased hand-washing
- Increased surface cleaning
- Encourage working from home where possible
- Ensure that social distancing guidelines are followed. That is 2, or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable
- Reducing activity times
- Using screens and barriers
- Avoiding face-to-face working
- Use fixed teams or partnering
- Remove unnecessary activities that cannot be conducted socially distanced
- Keeping voices quiet, for example by refraining playing music
To successfully reopen your business you must heavily involve your staff in this process. Consultation to explain the measures you intend to implement, and to hear feedback and improving modification, will ensure the changes are accepted. With everyone’s involved engagement you will develop the best chances of reopening in a way that allows everyone to work safely and feel comfortable with the changes.
Working from home
Wherever possible, people are still being encouraged to work from home and you should consider and embrace this wherever viable. This will involve providing remote working team members with the necessary equipment to work effectively and the introduction of a clear shared platform to monitor and manage work online.
Making your business COVID secure
Where you have team members who are not able to work from home you will need to implement changes to the workplace to make it ‘COVID-secure.’ Minimising contact between staff members whilst working and at ‘crunch points’ such as arrival and exit of work, and whilst moving around the workplace.
You should allow those who are vulnerable to coronavirus, or who live with those who are, to work from home wherever possible. Where if this is not possible employers must make detailed plans to mitigate risks to these team members. The same applies to workers who are pregnant. All of these assessments should be detailed and documented.
In addition to a documented Risk Assessment for your business, a cleaning schedule detailing hand-washing, cleaning and regular sanitising of all areas of the workplace should also be documented. This will allow you to allocate responsibility (and regularly review) key actions as well as prove due diligence in the matter of minimising the transmission of coronavirus.
Current government policy is that staff members DO NOT need to wear face coverings whilst at work to protect against COVID. If you already require PPE as part of your business practice you should continue to do so but you do not need to introduce this for coronavirus specifically. However, if your risk assessment states that face coverings are required it is the employers responsibility to provide these free of charge to their staff. Workers who wish to wear face covering should be allowed to do so and supported in the safe wearing thereof.
Where there is an outbreak of COVID-19 you must have a clear plan in place that is conveyed to staff. This should be detailed in your COVID-19 risk assessment and have an allocated single point of contact to contact public health teams. Where there is more than one case in your workplace, your local PHE health protection team should be notified. If an outbreak is declared you will have to record details of all staff showing symptoms so you must ensure that all of your employment records are up to date. You will be provided with information about outbreak management which will support you in controlling the outbreak and communicating effectively to staff.
Method Grid is a unique online tool which allows you to document your plans and procedures, and to monitor and maintain related actions, in order to facilitate a safe reopening of your business.