Covid-19 – Returning to work
The new Coronavirus disease, officially named COVID-19, is posing a significant challenge to many organisations. As the virus is now spreading through community transmission in the UK, all employers and workers are being affected in some way. Peoples health and well-being, and stringent measures to prevent the virus from spreading, should be at the heart of every employer’s response.
Government and public health advice changes rapidly so employers should ensure they:
- Keep up to date daily with the situation as it develops
- Regularly review their control policy, risk assessment and contingency plan
- Communicate with keys teams and individuals across the business
- Ensure they have enough resources in place to control their workplace effectively
The starting point with any infection is to develop a risk assessment. A risk assessment is a systematic method of looking at work activities, considering what could go wrong, and deciding on suitable control measures. These control measures are designed to eliminate, reduce or minimize the risks of loss, damage or injury in the workplace.
Step 1: Identify hazards
Step 2: Assess the risks
Step 3: Control the risks
Step 4: Record your findings
Step 5: Review the controls
Remember the hierarchy of Control in this order, ask yourself if you can:
Eliminate the hazard?
Reduce the hazard?
Isolate the hazard?
Control the hazard?
Businesses and workplaces should make every possible effort to enable working from home as a first option.
Where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make every effort to comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the government. There are several effective ways to prevent transmission:
- Making sure your workplace is clean and hygienic
- Promoting regular and thorough hand washing by everyone
- Providing all employees with an alcohol-based hand rub
- Do not touch eyes, nose or mouth
- Encouraging people to use and bin tissues
- Avoid public transport, travel to work individually
- Ensure enough natural ventilation is available
- You should still advise staff to keep 2 metres apart as much as possible
- You should plan work to minimise contact between workers
- Avoid skin-to-skin and face-to-face contact
As much as possible, ensure teams of workers are in as small groups as possible (cohorting). Where face-to-face contact is essential, this should be kept to 15 minutes or less wherever possible.
To protect your staff, you should remind colleagues daily to only come into work if they are well and no one in their household is self-isolating.
Some general Rules to consider:
- Only allow limited number of people into your workplace at any given time
- Use stairs where possible, avoid using lifts
- Only one person to use toilets at a time – consider signage “in use” if necessary
Once you have worked through the hierarchy of control the last thing to consider is PPE. If you are going to prescribe PPE as a control measure you should consider:
- Have I evaluated every other control measure first?
- Is the PPE effective for the task in hand?
- Do I have enough PPE for all parties?
- Do I have enough PPE if any were to be damaged or lost? PPE must be properly looked after.
When considering bringing the workforce back in the office environment consider the following in your assessment and remember you cannot control everything.
- Where possible, employees should use encouraged to use private vehicles to get to work. Additional arrangements may be required to facilitate additional parking.
- A cycle to work scheme might be encouraged (However, consider use of showering/changing facilities within the building and hygiene).
- If public transport is being relied on for staff, consider flexi-hours and staggered working hours to reduce impact on public transport services.
- If offices are in a multi-tenanted building, consider how employees may interact with staff from other organisations in the building’s communal areas (e.g. lobby areas, stairwells, building entrances, smoking areas, muster point etc.).
- Segregated workstations in a strategic layout to facilitate face to face communications while maintaining social distancing. This may require investment in furniture exchange to facilitate this along with screens.
- Install signage to remind staff to retain social distance. This can be creative directional signage to encourage flows around the office space and markings on the floor (does not necessarily need to be hazard tape).
- Alternative days working from the office and from home. Rotate teams so there is inter-departmental presence, and not just the same people interacting.
- Minimize the frequency staff need are interacting face to face. E.g. Delegate a timeframe for when non-urgent discussions are required and have these at 15-minute intervals. This will reduce the amount of staff moving around the office space throughout the day.
- Hand wash/sanitizing stations at entrance to office, welfare/canteen, WC’s. Staff to wash hands on entry and exit to the office and welfare areas.
- Work station cleanliness – in addition to station hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes for staff to use , consider using a disposable placement that is disposed of in the bin at the end of each work day which will reduce surface contact by a number of people (e.g. different staff using the same workstation when hot-desking on a rotation) Each employee has their own “box” of supplies (stationary, chargers etc.) that is stored in desk or brought in daily.
- Staff to have their own cups/mugs/water bottles and bring in their own packed lunch where possible.
Robust support for employee holistic well-being:
- Maintain “routine” where possible (e.g. daily meeting/check ins with those still working from home).
- Virtual social activities (e.g. virtual drinks, games/quiz, team exercise events that are done individually but all contribute).
Additional aspects to consider:
- Multiple layers of protection – temperature monitoring, PPE, enhanced air circulation (fresh air) no single measure is enough.
- First aid – will there always be a first aider and fire warden in the office?
- What is the strategy for maintenance/cleaning contractors who will invariably need to visit the premises?
- Where costs permit – there are various means of technology to reduce need for contact with surfaces (e.g. to call elevators, make hot drinks, office climate control, means to open doors).
Due to the uncertainty this pandemic presents if you have not done so already you should consider a contingency plan. There have been several new “spikes” in countries that were showing improvement.
In your plan you should consider various “what if” scenarios.
What if one member of staff showed symptoms?
What if multiple key members of your team had to isolate?
The plan should take account of current and potential impacts.
Be ready for staff to stay at home.
If new hazards are presented, reassess and add to your risk assessment.
Ensure you regularly review your contingency plan.
Sources of Information
Follow Public Health England or The Department of Health and Social Care on Twitter for regular updates