How To Stay Safe When Returning To Work 2020

24th July 2020

After a tough time over the past few months, lockdown restrictions have begun to ease in the UK. We’ve been reunited with our loved ones, been able to go and get a pint from the pub, and for some, been able to go back to the office. Slowly but surely, we’ve all begun to adapt to the ‘new normal’. However, it’s important to remember that coronavirus hasn’t gone away, nor has the risk it poses to our health. We all need to continue to do our bit to limit the spread of the virus to keep ourselves and others safe.

The government continues to put strict guidelines in place, particularly around social distancing and the requirement to self-isolate and get tested if you are showing symptoms. As of 24th July in England, wearing face masks in shops is now compulsory, and this rule is also the case in Scotland. It’s now the job of employers to do everything possible to keep employees safe as they begin returning to work, and employees must also play their part to keep everybody safe. If you’re reopening your workplace, what steps do you need to take to protect people from COVID-19?

COVID-19 Risk Assessment

If you haven’t done so already, you should undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment before returning to work; this is part of Government regulations. The aim of this risk assessment is to recognise the virus as the hazard, to help you to identify the likelihood of transmission from one person to another in different settings. Following the risk assessment, you will have a much better idea of what control measures to put in place to minimise these risks, and keep your workforce safe. From social distancing to staggered start times, one-way systems, cleanliness and PPE, the steps required to make a workplace COVID-19 secure will differ from one business to another.

We have put together a guide around the Return to work COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Risk Assessment, you can also download our free COVID-19 Free Risk Assessment template here too. 

Tips for social distancing in the workplace

When returning to work, we all have a responsibility to act in accordance with social distancing rules in order to protect ourselves and others. As an employer, you could put some of the following changes in place, and also encourage your employees to follow this advice.

  • Avoid face-to-face meetings as much as possible, encouraging virtual meetings over platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype. Where a face-to-face meeting is absolutely necessary, ensure that meeting room seating is rearranged so that social distancing can be maintained by attendees.
  • Create one way systems through corridors, and across the building where possible.
  • Avoid eating in social areas, such as the breakroom and the kitchen, instead encourage employees to eat at their desks.
  • Set limits on lift capacities, and encourage employees to wait for the next lift, or to take the stairs if they are able to.
  • Put rules in place to limit numbers in social spaces, such as in the kitchen or smoking area.
  • Place markers on the floor, set 2m apart to encourage employees to social distance.

Depending on your industry, and the size of your organisation, social distancing measures will be more straightforward to implement in some businesses than others. If you’re unsure, please reach out for COVID-19 support.

Workplace cleanliness & sanitation

COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets from an infected individual, this could be through direct contact, or through objects/surfaces which have been contaminated. An individual will become infected if these droplets enter their body through the mouth, nose or eyes. Because of this, it’s absolutely imperative that workplaces are kept clean at all times. You should arrange for areas to have a deep clean once per day, and periodic cleaning to take place throughout the day.

Naturally, frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer should be encouraged. This should be carried out when an employee arrives as work, before and after they enter a different room/area and also frequently throughout the day. As part of your COVID-19 risk assessment, you’ll identify frequently touched areas. These areas will need to be cleaned more often than usual, some of these areas include:

  • Door handles,
  • Computer equipment (keyboard/mouse),
  • Kettles, microwave and other kitchen equipment,
  • Shared equipment such as vehicles, tools and other machinery; and
  • Toilets, reception areas, corridors and lifts.

Supporting those who are vulnerable to COVID-19

It’s important to bear in mind that for those who are more vulnerable and have been social shielding, not only will they be at greater risk within the workplace but they may be more anxious about returning to work. During this time, these individuals may require extra support. You could suggest working from home, staggered start/end times, or allow them to carry out their work when it is less busy in the office. This should be managed on a case by case basis; ensuring a plan is put in place that is best for the individual and is arranged around both their needs and the needs of the business.

If you’re unsure how best to manage this process, or on what can be put in place to keep vulnerable individuals safe, we’d recommend getting in touch with an occupational health provider who will be able to guide you through this process.

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