COVID-19: Is it safe to return to work?
People who are unable to work from home have been told they can return to their jobs as part of the Government’s partial easing of the lockdown restrictions. New guidance was published on Sunday 10 May 2020, to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the pandemic.
With the population questioning their safety by returning to work, employers should bear in mind their obligations under health and safety law, which continue to apply in these new circumstances. Unless they feel safe, employees will not return, customers will stay away thus harming livelihoods and our public services further.
The government, in consultation with industry, has released eight separate guides on working safely during coronavirus. These cover a range of different types of work, for example, construction; factories, plants, and warehouses; research facilities; offices and contact centres to name just a few.
Many businesses operate more than one type of workplace, such as an office, factory, and fleet of vehicles. If this relates to you, you may need to use more than one of the guidance documents: Working Safely During Coronavirus
Key Points |
The following information may help you to understand and implement these key points the government are focusing on as we move into the next stage:
When should I go back to work during COVID-19?
You are still advised to work from home if you can. If you cannot work from home and if your workplace has not been told to close, speak to your employer to discuss when your workplace will open. If you do go back to work, try to drive, walk or cycle to work instead to reduce the use of public transport. Employers can consider increasing car parking spaces and also setting up changing rooms for staff to change their clothes before and after work.
All employers with 50 or more staff should publish a Covid-19 Risk Assessment. Start by downloading a free copy of the HSE’s ‘A brief guide to controlling risks in the workplace’ here.
We would actually recommend that any business should carry out and publish a written risk assessment AND method statement for at least all common tasks.
The HSE provides general guidance on how to do a risk assessment, which would need to be adapted for Covid-19 using the appropriate workplace guidance for your particular environment. In summary, the HSE recommends taking the following five steps:
- Identify the hazards in your workplace.
- Decide who might be harmed by those hazards and how.
- Evaluate the risks and decide on measures you can implement to minimise the risks.
- Record your findings and implement them.
- Review your risk assessment and update it as necessary.
Helpful Hint: You will also find example Risk Assessment Templates for all sized and types of businesses on the HSE website. If you can’t find your industry listed, pick the one closest to it and adapt it for your own workplace.
“Remember: A risk assessment is only effective if you and your staff act on it. You must follow through with any actions required and review it on a regular basis.” – HSE
Once an assessment is completed, employers are expected to display a notice in the workplace to show their employees, customers and other visitors that they have complied with the governments guidance on managing the risk of COVID-19. A downloadable notice is included in the documents online: COVID19 Risk Assessment Display
Here at First Intervention Team, we strongly believe that communicating the plan with all of your employees is a crucial part of managing the risk. By all means put up your posters, but we believe that it is critical that you physically or virtually ‘walk’ your staff through the risk assessment so that everybody is on board and fully understands the implications of their actions.
What Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be provided?
You must first assess the risk and see if it can be eliminated entirely. If that is not reasonably practicable, you will need to look at a range of methods which can minimise the risk of harm. However, the government’s guidance emphasises that:
- Covid-19 risks need to be managed through social distancing, hygiene, screens and fixed team or partnering, not through the use of PPE.
- Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE.
- In the event that your risk assessment did show that PPE was required, you would need to provide it.
There is a distinction between face coverings and PPE, and it is really important to not rely on them as a risk management strategy. Employers should support employees in using a face covering safely if they choose to wear one, learn more about FaceFit Testing
What practical steps can I take to mitigate the risks of COVID-19?
If you can’t enforce the 2 metres distancing in your workplace, you should re-design workspaces to manage the transmission risk of COVID-19. You could look at staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms. Employers 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.
Do I need a reinforced COVID19 cleaning service?
The government advises reinforcing all cleaning processes. Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, concentrating on everyday surfaces such as door handles, light switches and keyboards. Employers should also provide hand washing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.
We would certainly advocate the implementation of an enhanced ‘COVID-19 deep clean’ at your premises before employees return to work. For advice on this please call us.
Your staff need to see that you are going above and beyond for their health and wellbeing at this worrying time of change.
What mental health support should I offer my staff on their return to work?
Offering ongoing support to your employees as they return to work is essential for their mental health. Each member of staff will likely have felt the impact of this crisis, and whether that has manifested itself in health anxiety, financial concern, or loneliness you will need to identify the differing levels of support required. Make sure to hold 1-2-1 virtual meetings with those employees suffering from anxiety or those with extra worries before you reopen your doors. The only way you will be able to offer the support each staff member needs is to take the time to understand their needs individually.
In addition to these back-to-work meetings, be sure to provide continued emotional support for mental health and wellbeing for the entire workforce. For more information and guidance, consult the resources available at Mind UK.
For help in understanding and assessing the risk of COVID-19 in your place of work please give us a call on 01375 676779. We are always happy to chat through your options.