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Covid-19 Secure workplaces: the detail for returning to work

Personnel Today


The Department for Business and Industrial Strategy last night published detailed guidance for eight separate workplaces, following consultation with employers, trade unions, Public Health England, the Health & Safety Executive and the devolved administrations.

As well detailed recommendation for “Covid-19 secure” workplaces, the government also outlined five practical steps for businesses focused on five key points, which should be implemented as soon as it is practical, specifically:

  • Work from home where possible
  • Perform Covid-19 risk asssessments and publish online
  • Maintain two metres’ social distancing, wherever possible
  • Where social distancing is not possible, manage virus transmission risk with barriers, change shift patterns and minimise the number of people working together, and
  • Improve cleaning measures.

The guidance applies to businesses currently open but also includes guidance for retail which government believes could be in a position to begin a phased reopening at the earliest from 1 June.

In anticipation of last night’s announcement the CIPD urged businesses to ensure they can meet three key tests before bringing staff back into the workplace:

Is it essential? – If people can continue to work from home they must continue to do that for the foreseeable future. If they cannot, is their work deemed essential or could the business continue furlough them for longer to give them the time needed to put safety measures and clear employee guidance and consultation in place?

Is it safe? – Employers have a duty of care to identify and manage risks to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to. This will involve social distancing measures, potentially reconfiguring workspaces and common areas, possible changes to working hours to reduce risk of exposure, and increased cleaning measures. Employers should gradually test these measures in practice and ensure they can work with larger numbers before encouraging more of their workforce back.

Is it mutually agreed? – CIPD research found that four in 10 people are anxious about returning to work and there are concerns people could be forced back. It says it’s vital there is a clear dialogue between employers and their people so concerns, such as commuting, can be raised and individuals’ needs and worries taken into account. There needs to be flexibility on both sides to accommodate different working schedules as ways of managing some of these issues.

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese warned that even when these three conditions are met, the return to work must be gradual: “The return to work is a massive undertaking for employers and is likely to prove much harder than the original lockdown as there are so many variables.”

He added: “Business owners must balance their desire for getting their business up and running again with the safeguarding of their people’s health and wellbeing. Government guidance and health and safety will only go so far; businesses must think about what is needed for their own organisation and the specific needs of their people.

“We have a long road ahead to get Britain back to work, but by taking the time to think through workplace protections and by engaging with staff, businesses will be in a much better position to bring people back at the right time and in the right way.”

Covid secure workplaces

  1. Offices

Employees should continue to work from where possible. People needed on-site might include workers in roles critical for “operational continuity, safe facility management or regulatory requirements” and which cannot be performed remotely. Individuals who are unable to work remotely due to home circumstances or the unavailability of necessary equipment might also be included at the office.

For those staff that come to the office, employers should begin by ensuring that staff who would ordinarily travel by public transport have places to park their cars or bikes, as well as changing facilities for those opting to cycle or run to work. Staggering arrival and departure as well as break times should be considered.

One-way systems should be created where possible to minimise contact among people. Employers should review layouts and processes to allow people to work further apart from each other. Using floor tape to mark areas to help workers keep two metres apart. Where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, arrange people to work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face. If workstations cannot be positioned further apart, use screens to separate people from each other.

Employers should avoid the use of hot desks but, where not possible, workstations and any shared equipment should be cleaned and sanitised between different occupants.

If meetings cannot be held remotely they should involve only people who are completely necessary and be held outside where possible.

Work areas and equipment should be cleaned regularly, as should objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, such as door handles and keyboards, making sure there are adequate disposal arrangements. Use of high-touch items and equipment, like printers or whiteboards, should be restricted. Workspaces should be cleared and waste and employees’ belongings removed at the end of a shift.

  1. Construction and other outdoor work

Some of the recommendations, such staggering clock-on and clock-off times and breaks apply across the board. In construction, employers also need to consider creating zones on a site to minimise the chance of workers spreading the virus. Hand tools, controls and machinery should be sanitised after use. The government has not recommended additional personal protective equipment (PPE).

  1. Factories, plant and warehouses

Employers need to ensure surfaces that are regularly touched are frequently cleaned and that hand sanitiser is made available. Shifts should have the same people working, to minimise social contact.

Deliveries should be larger and less frequent to minimise contact with visitors. Again, the government has not recommended additional PPE.

  1. Labs and research facilities

As well as the relevant guidelines above, recommendations include moving access controls on low category labs so that people do not have to use access cards and introducing one-way flow through buildings, paying particular attention to long corridors which can be more common in lab buildings.


The post Covid-19 Secure workplaces: the detail for returning to work appeared first on Personnel Today.

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