With government advice continuing to change, it’s important that those who continue to operate from the workplace follow strict social distancing, health, safety, and employee wellbeing measures, in-line with the latest government guidance during COVID-19. This document is intended only as a guide and is not exhaustive. You should check all aspects of your return to workplace strategy with your own Health & Safety Advisors.
Remember, Government guidance and directives should take precedence and should always be followed. Please note, government advice is changing frequently, and this guide will follow suit as and when new information is made publicly available. Employees should continue to work from home unless they cannot perform their normal duties from home.
As guidance is updated, so will this document be, although please note there may be a short delay whilst information is collated.
Date of last update: 13/11/20
With lockdown now imposed until early December, many organisations have been forced to close their doors once again. With the unpredictability of the coronavirus situation, is important for organisations and to make preparations for any further changes to government advice regarding COVID-19, and to inform and/or consult with staff on any proposed strategies prior to them being implemented.
Similarly to other European Governments, as part of the plan to ease restrictions, employers are being held responsible for ensuring their employees adhere to anti-contagion and anti-spread guidelines, alongside social distancing measures whilst in the workplace. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and other authorities have been tasked with ensuring all measures have been taken and are being followed.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned of risk of harsher measures, including prosecution, should companies flout health and safety rules related to COVID-19.
Employees themselves will expect employers to afford them all reasonable protection from contracting COVID-19 whilst performing work duties. Therefore, it is essential to have well documented policies, procedures and processes that are regularly updated as official guidance changes, or in reaction to incidents of potential contamination or contraction within the workforce.
Following the announcement of a four-week lockdown throughout November, the following rules now apply until the 2nd of December:
It is important to note that when entering premises, waiting to be seated, and walking around (including moving from your table to use the facilities), a face mask must now be worn, unless for reasons of medical exemptions.
The government mandates that: “In general, you must not meet with another person socially or undertake any activities with another person. However, you can meet in a public, outdoors space with people you live with or your support bubble, or with one other person.” Whilst these rules do not apply to the workplace, social distancing should still be maintained.
The government has also introduced local COVID alert levels on a three-tier system, meaning the above guidance should be cross-checked against the guidance your local area is following.
Firstly, a very clear policy document that outlines how staff and visitors are required to behave and the measures they should follow need to be drawn up in accordance with official guidelines or new legislation, and must form part of your overall Health & Safety policy. This policy document must be shared with all staff, who in turn should acknowledge they have read, understood, and agree to comply with policy, including any future updates as guidance changes.
“Any instances of staff not adhering to COVID-19 protocols should be considered a disciplinary matter.”
There will be varying and wide-ranging degrees of complacency vs extreme concern across the workforce and flouting of social distance by some will undoubtedly be emotive and cause distress in others.
The policy should be comprehensive and prescriptive, including very clear instructions about steps to follow in the event of self-isolation, reporting incidents relating to onset of symptoms, notification of proximity to anyone else displaying symptoms, confirmation of infection, and any on-site breaches of policy.
Social distancing guidelines should be considered when planning workspace prior to any return to work. Proximity of desks, population density in buildings and occupancy of meeting rooms, common areas, stairwells, and corridors should all be adapted to ensure the requisite social distance (currently 1 metre plus) can be observed at all times.
Protection zones should be marked around table or desks, and in open plan spaces using stickers. Strategically placed signage should be displayed at all key locations to instruct on the use of provided hand sanitisers, along with hand washing guidance in bathrooms and toilets.
Entry and Exit procedures should be established for all buildings, and between floors, and separate departments, including hand sanitisation. In the case of shops or bars, a clear maximum capacity should be set, with a queue system in place if necessary.
“Organisations should consider splitting departments into distinct teams, with alternate attendance in the office. Between each shift rotation a deep clean of the environment should take place, and regular surface cleaning should be standard practice during the day.”
Established processes should be communicated to all managers and supervisors in the event that a member of staff or visitor starts to exhibit symptoms whilst on site, and agreed processes invoked immediately. Anybody who has been on site who subsequently exhibits symptoms, confirms as infected or has been in proximity to an individual affected within the preceding five days, should have a means to report immediately, and in turn other colleagues on the same shift pattern notified.
Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be provided for those working in close proximity, or offered to staff as an option, other than if guidelines or legislation dictates in which case it must be provided. Allocation to staff should be recorded along with further acknowledgement that staff will adhere to the use, lifespan management and disposal guidance. Stock levels should be monitored closely and replenished prior to existing PPE being end of life (EoL).
Employees who need to work should avoid public transport wherever possible. Where public transport is required, a face mask should be worn.
All of the above measures should be considered as part of a safe return to the workplace strategy. This guidance is not exhaustive but based on a practical understanding of the current official advice. Whatever measures your organisation decides to put into place to provide a safe and healthy workplace, it is an ISO 45001 requirement to have a suitable system to manage, monitor, report and record, in order to be able to pro-actively improve your OH&S performance. Having a robust system capable of withstanding an external audit is essential and will help protect an organisation from exposure to avoidable legal and personal risks.
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