Despite the political football peppering the UK with ongoing changes daily, we all need to start thinking about how we can adjust our old ways of working to make our working environment safer to staff, visitors and customers.
Social distancing measures are likely to continue well into 2021, so what do you, as an Employer, need to start thinking about now?
Employers have a number of common law and statutory duties in relation to health and safety at work, and a starting point will be for all Employers to familiarise themselves with the latest HSE guidance and Government guidance. Detailed guidance has been released for 8 over-branching industries which is a good place to start - you can find those guidelines here:
The next thing to do would be to refresh your workplace risk assessments, and for the time being, carrying out smaller risk assessments (even daily checklists) on a regular basis to not only protect staff but also the business in the event of future legal action.
This will ask you to be far more extensive and critical of your working environment, as the usual ways of working may need to be adjusted to facilitate greater social distancing, as well as adding additional hygiene measures. Many offices are designed in a way to support team communication, where staff sit next to or opposite each other in clusters. Arguably this is likely to be too close in the new 'social distancing' world, so changing desk arrangements need to be considered (and implemented).
It may not be possible to physically move furniture around, but by allowing a greater degree of home working - you could look at staggering working times; splitting teams and having them rotate in/out of the office would allow for a reduction of people within one space; fixing visitor hours or putting in an appointment-only system; utilising all meetings rooms to allow staff even further space between working areas - all should be considered to reduce the number of people on your premises at any one time.
Consider if there are any ‘hot spots’ on your premises. You may be surprised to hear that Amazon was fined one million euros a day, in part for not removing a revolving door which posed a significant risk of contamination to its staff. Consider the threat that communal corridors, lifts and staircases may pose and, if necessary, increase your cleaning regimes.
Shared areas or facilities such as canteens, kitchens, fridges and microwaves all need to be considered – who uses them, how often, how are can they be kept free of contamination. Can you afford to split your kitchen facilities, putting a small fridge, microwave, kettle etc into another room - so that movement back-and-forth across the office is reduced, whilst also allowing further accessibility to facilities.
In the office it is likely that ‘hot desks’ will be unacceptable as staff will need the confidence that they are the only person using a particular space. Pens, pencils should not be shared, and everyone should be staff should have easy access to anti-bacterial cleaning wipes to keep their office area clean and free of contamination. This should be re-enforced with a new adapted cleaning policy that details expectations in the current environment.
Hand sanitiser should also be readily available particularly for staff, visitors and customers entering the premises or office space. As well as antibacterial wipes and spray for surfaces.
Lots of things to consider and, if you are an Employer, it is up to you to provide a safe working environment for all your staff as you have a legal duty of care responsibility.
With forethought, planning and preparation the impact of some of these challenges can be minimised and you will be ready for the return to work.