Back to work during COVID
Updated 14 September 2020
People will be keen to get back to work as lockdown restrictions slowly ease and we enter a new phase. As we grapple with the new normal, business owners must navigate changing guidance and carry out COVID risk assessments in order to plan and prepare for reopening Covid secure businesses.
Office-based businesses have an important role to play – we will help get the economy moving whilst doing our upmost to limit the transmission of COVID-19 and keep people safe.
Government guidelines for employers in England to resume work focus on keeping the risk of infection as low as possible by protecting yourself, your workforce and your customers.
This can be achieved by following seven steps:
Step 1 Carry out a COVID risk assessment. (Note, if you do not carry out a risk assessment, the HSE or your local council can issue an enforcement notice).
Step 2 Implement strict hygiene measures.
Step 3 Ask visitors to wear face coverings where the law requires them to do so.
Step 4 Maintain social distancing.
Step 5 Increase ventilation.
Step 6 Take part in NHS Test and Trace.
Step 7 Turn symptomatic people away.
You should compile a staff briefing pack clearly setting out the measures you have implemented to provide information to your staff before they return.
Step 1 Carry out a COVID risk assessment
Carrying out a COVID risk assessment before reopening your premises will ensure your workplace is safe for returning staff and visitors. You can carry out the risk assessment yourself, or you might want to appoint a competent person to help you.
Your risk assessment will help to:
- Identify work activities or situations might cause transmission of the virus.
- Identify who could be at risk. You will need to plan for vulnerable and extremely vulnerable workers.
- Decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed to the virus.
- Take action to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk.
- Involve your staff in risk assessment discussions or use our Return to Work survey. It will help you see things from their perspective. For instance they might have their anxiety about returning, childcare issues, or concerns about public transport. To comply with GDPR, let staff know how any personal information will be used, and when it will be destroyed.
By recording your risk assessment (required by law if you have five or more staff), you can provide proof that the assessment has been carried out.
Your staff need to feel confident that you have taken the necessary steps to protect their health so make sure your COVID risk assessment is shared with them. The government also encourages employers to display this notice (download here) as further reassurance and as a reminder of the new measures everyone needs to adhere to.
Step 2 Implement strict hygiene measures
In other words, clean more often!
We are all familiar with the advice on hand hygiene by now. Make it simple by providing easy access to hand washing facilities. Have alcohol hand sanitiser, tissues and bins for staff and visitors to use readily available.
Cleaning with soap or disinfectant will kill COVID-19 so ensure thorough and frequent cleaning of any objects/surfaces that are regularly touched. Adopting a ‘clear desk’ policy helps ensure desks can be properly cleaned at the end of the day.
Have in place clear guidance for using and cleaning the toilet facilities. Make sure hand dryers are in good working order or provide paper towels. Provide more waste facilities and more frequent collection and disposal of waste. Waste does not need to be segregated unless an individual at work shows symptoms of or tests positive for COVID-19.
Step 3 Ask visitors to wear face coverings
Face coverings should be worn where the law requires people to do so. This is especially important for people who are meeting with people they wouldn’t normally meet.
The list of indoor settings requiring a face mask is here When to wear a face covering.
Different laws apply in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales so check the latest guidance for your region.
Step 4 Maintain social distancing
Maintaining a distance of at least 2 metres between people minimises spread. Where 2 metres is not possible, the 1 metre plus rule allows people to remain 1m apart if other measures are taken such as face shields, masks, perspex barriers or screens.
Don’t assume this will be easy; it’s simple in theory but difficult to monitor. For your social distancing measures to work, it relies on everyone’s cooperation – remind staff and visitors regularly of the new rules with visual signs and floor markings. Factor in extra time and ensure work expectations/pressures don’t conflict with adhering to the rules. Some things to help are:
- Move workstations further apart, use every other desk or put up screens to separate workstations.
- Change seating arrangements. Side by side is better than face to face.
- Encourage electronic material rather than paper-based.
- Stagger break times and, if you can, take them outside.
- If it is possible, introduce a one-way system in corridors.
- For team work and meetings, avoid using the meeting room, use remote tools where possible.
- Provide an ample supply of any equipment needed such as pens to avoid the need to share.
- If a face to face meeting is necessary, maintain 1m+ between each participant. Markings on floor/tables can help.
- Make sure your meeting room is well-ventilated. If it is possible, you could even hold meetings outside.
Eating and drinking
- In a place where staff queue or congregate for lunch/the coffee machine etc, mark out spaces with tape on the floors to reinforce the distancing rule.
- Encouraging excellent hand hygiene – if possible install hand wash stations in areas of eating.
- Encourage staff to bring in their own lunch and refreshments. Perhaps provide bottled water.
Where there are no viable alternatives to using the staff canteen, do so safely by:
- Staggering break times to reduce the number of people using the facilities at any one time.
- Providing packaged meals.
- Rearranging tables to maintain distance.
- Cleaning and disinfecting the canteen in line with cleaning guidelines.
- If you have a staff kitchen, can you limit its use to one at a time? Ask people to hand wash before and after using the kettle or, better still, bring in a flask.
Arriving and leaving work
- Consider how you can limit the number of people using work/shared transport.
- Reduce crowding and congestions by entrances. Think about one way systems for entry/exit. Remove turnstiles.
- Avoid or adapt sign in procedures which require people to interact with a communal document or device.
- Ensure hand washing facilities by doors and signs to remind people entering/leaving to use them.
- Have fewer people present at any one time by staggering working hours, working in shifts or splitting your workforce.
Avoid the use of hot desks. If this isn’t possible, provide each member of staff with their own keyboard and mouse, and clean the workstations between different users.
- Prioritise use of lifts for people with disabilites.
- Reduce the maximum number of people in a lift so distance can be maintained and mark out safe distances on the lift floor.
- Don’t forget to clean lift buttons regularly or program to automatically stop on each floor.
- If you have a reception desk, erect a plexiglass screen to protect staff and visitors.
- Think about people who visit your premises; clients, parcel deliveries and other callers to your office. How can you best handle these? Use signage to inform visitors of any special arrangements you have in place.
- Remember, visitors should wear a face covering.
- Limit number of visitors at any one time and consider if you can limit hours when visitors are permitted.
Fire and other emergencies
There is no relaxation of fire safety regulations so safe emergency procedures such as those used in an evacuation take priority over COVID-19 restrictions. You should however, review your processes to incorporate distancing where you can. Roll-call and informing people they can return to their desks, for instance, can both be done without close contact. Instruct staff to take their mobile phones with them if they are evacuated and this way you can maintain contact via text or call. (Check you have all up to date contact details.)
Factor in potential delays to emergency services response.
For first aiders, keep ample supplies of:
- Disposable gloves.
- Face Mask – type FFP2.
- Disposable plastic apron or disposable coveralls.
- Eye protection.
- Clinical waste bag.
- Provision of alcohol hand rub and masks for patients are also advised.
If your risk assessment shows other areas where PPE is necessary, provide information on how to put on and take off correctly, and on correct disposal. Read more here.
Step 5 Increase ventilation
By keeping doors and windows open where possible and running ventilation systems at all times.
Step 6 Take part in NHS Test and Trace
By keeping a record of all staff and contractors for 21 days.
From 18 September, this will be enforced in law. Some exemptions apply. Check ‘Maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace’ for details.
Step 7 Turn people with symptoms away
If a staff member (or someone in their household) or a visitor has a persistent cough, a high temperature or has lost their sense of taste or smell, they should be isolating.
Monitoring and reviewing
Your COVID risk assessment and the priority actions that you introduce should be continuously reviewed and effectiveness of control measures should be monitored and if necessary adjusted and developed further. Government guidance on social distancing is likely to change over time and this should be complied with. For more sector specific guidance see the government website here.
Keep distancing and carry on!
How to put on and remove PPE safely
|Wash or sanitise own hands||Remove PPE in the following order:|
|Put PPE on the following order:||1. Gloves|
|1. Apron/coverall||2. Apron/coverall|
|2. Mask||3. Eye protection|
|3. Eye protection||4. Mask|
|4. Gloves||Place all in clinical waste bag|