Returning to the Workplace: Steps for Introducing Employees Back to Work Following Covid

02nd August 2021

For so many of us, July 2021 is the month we’ve been waiting for. But with the end of lockdown restrictions, does that mean that everything in our lives goes back to how it was pre-pandemic? Far from it. Both in our personal and work lives, we must adapt to the ‘new normal’, living with coronavirus, but doing what we can to minimise its spread and protect those around us.

On 19 July 2021, England moved to step 4 of the roadmap, this means that the government is no longer instructing people to work from home, and employers can begin to get their staff back into the workplace. So, with your people returning to work for the first time in well over a year, what can you do to protect them, as well as your business whilst we continue to navigate the pandemic? Use the advice and resources in this post to safely and effectively introduce your employees back to work as covid restrictions ease.

1. Update your covid risk assessment

As part of government regulations in returning to business as usual, businesses should complete an up to date COVID-19 risk assessment. You may have carried out a risk assessment last year if workers were visiting the office, but it’s important to update it to make sure it’s fully reflective of the situation today. As we know all too well, a lot can change in a year, therefore it’s so important to ensure your risk assessment is fit for purpose and is representative of how your business now operates.

Most importantly with any risk assessment, make sure that you share and communicate this across all personnel in the business. If your staff don’t know the risks, and how to control them at work, your risk assessment loses its purpose. Finally, make sure that it is continually updated as and when required.

To help you with the process, we’ve put together a guide on how to create a COVID-19 risk assessment, with a free template for you to use to get started.

2. Provide adequate ventilation

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets, meaning that a person becomes infected with the virus when these droplets enter the body through the mouth, nose or eyes. Not only can covid be transmitted through direct contact or contaminated surfaces, but also through virus particles within the air. You should make sure that workplaces are properly ventilated to ensure there is a supply of fresh air to indoor spaces, doing so will help to lower the risk of transmission by removing air particles carrying the virus.

When figuring out the level of ventilation required within a room, it’s important to bear in mind the size of the room, occupancy levels and the type of work taking place. For example, where a person is physically exerted, deeper breathing is generally required which raises the risk of transmission further.

3. Workplace cleanliness & sanitation

In the office, staff are constantly going from room to room; touching door handles, using the kettle and sharing office equipment. These frequently touched areas are covid hotspots, putting workers at greater risk of contracting the virus from an infected individual. One of the best ways to control this hazard is through regular and thorough workplace cleaning.

As part of your COVID-19 risk assessment, you’ll identify frequently touched areas. It’s important these areas are cleaned regularly throughout the day, this should then be followed up by a deep clean at the end of each day. Encourage employees to get in the habit of handwashing and/or using hand sanitiser, as well as wiping down surfaces, workstations and equipment once they are finished.

4. Lateral flow testing

Lateral flow testing offers a fast and effective method of detecting covid cases, making them a vital tool for helping to get employees safely back into the workplace. The test itself is very simple to carry out; it involves swabbing the tonsils and nostrils, next the swab is inserted into the liquid provided and finally, this liquid is transferred to the test strip. With results available within 30 minutes, they are an excellent tool helping businesses to control the spread of covid-19 at work.

Whilst this method of testing is highly effective, it’s dependent on employees carrying out the test properly. We now offer in-person Lateral Flow Test Training to businesses to assist in this process. We are even able to order lateral flow kits for you directly from our suppliers. Find out more about our Lateral Flow Test Training service.

5. Workers displaying covid symptoms should stay at home

As well as getting employees to take a lateral flow test before coming to the office, there should also be a strict ban on allowing anyone to enter the workplace if they are displaying covid symptoms. These main symptoms involve:

  • a high temperature
  • a  new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

Of course, it’s generally advisable that if any employees are feeling unwell, they should not attend work. Whether they have covid or not, this helps to minimise the spread of illness within the workplace, therefore reducing the need for absences.

6. Respect your employees’ personal choice

One of the most important steps for introducing employees back into the workplace is to respect their personal viewpoints. Just because the government has lifted restrictions, it doesn’t mean everyone will feel comfortable coming back into a busy workplace after more than a year of working from home.

Some individuals will still be nervous about the risk this poses to their health. Others may have different reasons for wanting to work from home, from feeling more productive without distractions, enjoying not having to commute or simply that homeworking is better suited to their lifestyle. It’s important to remember that people have spent the past year adapting to working from home, so suddenly switching back to being full time in the workplace will likely face some resistance from staff.

When it comes to introducing employees back into the workplace, it’s important to remember this will differ from business to business. What works for one company may not work for another. Make sure you’re working in a way that is safe, effective and suitable for your employees. If you have any questions, or need any help in this process, do get in touch with our occupational health specialists who are here to help.

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