If you are confused about what to do and what not to do during the COVID 19 pandemic when it comes to your workplace, you are not alone.
Even amongst the Occupational Safety and Health profession, debate continues to rage on.
Of course, this isn’t the time for conflicting opinions – we have to follow the official UK COVID 19 guidance (or other jurisdiction) to help open up our businesses and protect employees (or other applicable guidance for your location!).
We’ve crunched the latest guidance down for you, to save you some time. (updated 20 October 2020)
You will need to interpret the guidance as it applies to your particular business, before creating a plan of action. To help you decide which actions to take, you need to carry out an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment.
Just as you would for other health and safety related hazards, the COVID 19 risk assessment must be done in consultation with workers, unions or other relevant representatives.
5 Steps to Working Safely during COVID 19
Here are practical actions for businesses to take based on 5 main steps.
Make sure you to use these steps alongside specific guidance released by the government or industries bodies within the sector that you work.
1. Carry out a COVID 19 risk assessment
Before restarting work you should ensure the safety of the workplace by:
- carrying out a specific COVID 19 risk assessment in line with the HSE or other relevant bodies guidance
- consult with your workers or trade unions where necessary
- share the results of the risk assessment with your workforce and on your website (where appropriate)
2. Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
You should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning by:
- encouraging people to follow the guidance on hand washing and hygiene
- providing hand sanitiser around the workplace, in addition to washrooms
- frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly
- enhancing cleaning for busy areas
- setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets
- providing hand drying facilities – either paper towels or electrical dryers
3. Help people to work from home
You should take all reasonable steps to help people work from home by:
- discussing home working arrangements
- ensuring they have the right equipment, for example remote access to work systems
- including them in all necessary communications
- looking after their physical and mental wellbeing
Working from home is not a panacea.
It’s really important for businesses to engage with their employees to understand their perspectives & experiences in working from home.
4. Maintain 2m social distancing, where possible
Where possible, you should maintain 2m between people by:
- putting up signs to remind workers and visitors of social distancing guidance
- avoiding sharing workstations
- using floor tape or paint to mark areas to help people keep to a 2m distance
- arranging one-way traffic through the workplace if possible
- switching to seeing visitors by appointment only if possible
5. Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk
Where it’s not possible for people to be 2m apart, you should do everything practical to manage the transmission risk by:
- considering whether an activity needs to continue for the business to operate
- keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
- using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
- using back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible
- staggering arrival and departure times
- reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’
COVID 19 Risk Assessment Template
Would you like a free health and safety risk assessment template to help you with your COVID 19 Risk Assessment? You can download our free, editable PDF right here. Don’t mention it! 😉
Managing COVID-19 Risk
When confronting the challenge of getting your workplace back up and running during the COVID 19 pandemic, there are a few basics principles that should form the foundation of your approach.
All workplaces should aim to implement the following where practicable –
- Increasing handwashing and surface cleaning
- Work from home where it isn’t essential to be at the workplace
- Social distancing implemented where possible – 2m (current UK guidance)
- If within 2m – increasing washing, cleaning, use of physical barriers, arrangement of seating etc., restricting inter-mixing of teams
- Consider if people affected are high-risk/vulnerable
Sharing your COVID 19 Risk Assessment
Of course, you should share the results of your risk assessment with your workforce.
If possible, you should consider publishing the results on your website or similar channels (and the UK govt. expects all employers with over 50 workers to do so).
The UK government have produced a ‘COVID-19 Secure’ notice to display in the workplace to illustrate that you have followed the relevant guidance to complete a COVID 19 Risk Assessment.
The reason for this notice is to encourage open communication with your employees and customers – letting them know the risks have been assessed and that reasonable steps have been taken to protect them.
Who should go to Work?
The risk of harm varies significantly across different groups of the population. For this reason, it’s critical to assess the vulnerability of your workforce (liaise with Human Resources if applicable) during your COVID 19 Risk Assessment – this will help you discern who may be at increased risk, and allow you to take measures to protect them.
Protecting the vulnerable
- To protect vulnerable and ‘clinically/medically extremely vulnerable’ individuals (those that have received a letter or advised by GP)
- ‘Clinically vulnerable’ should take extra care with distancing and/or be offered roles with minimal interaction
- Mental health support may also be required – consider in-person advice or phone support
People who need to self-isolate
- Important to ensure employees follow guidance on isolating if showing symptoms according to government guidance
- Employers should be aware of guidance of statutory sick pay – liaise with HR representative
Equality in workplace
- Ensure all employees continue to be treating as fairly as possible – considering the individual impact of the mitigation measures
- Make reasonable adjustments for disabled, expectant mothers etc. as normal – be cognisant of any unintentional impacts – ensure there is a feedback loop
COVID 19: Social Distancing at Work
Objective: Aim to maintain social distancing wherever possible, including commuting & travelling during work.
Currently in the UK, the social distancing guidelines are recommending to maintain 2m between people where possible.
If social distancing is not possible, use Hierarchy of Control approach. Use mitigation measures as per the ‘Managing Risk’ section as necessary.
Note: Applies to all areas of the business i.e. entrances/exits, meeting rooms, canteens etc.
Coming to work and leaving work
Enable hygiene measures on arrival/departure
- Use markings & limit congestion e.g. 2m distance markers
- Use one-way entry & exit systems
- Remove or amend non-essential processes that require congregating and/or touching surfaces
Moving around premises
- Maintain social distancing as far as possible on pedestrian traffic routes
- Max. occupancy or restricted access to confined spaces e.g. lifts, meeting rooms etc.
- Provision of hand sanitiser in areas where touch-based operation is necessary
- One-way flow used wherever feasible to reduce crossover of pedestrians
Workspaces and workstations
- Workstations should allow people to maintain distancing
- Restrict use to one person where possible
- Where they can’t be separated sufficiently, mitigation is to considered
- Use ‘pairing’ systems for tasks and encourage contactless payments
Using Common Areas
Maintaining social distancing in common areas
- Stagger break time, use outside areas, extend usable space
- Reduce face-to-face interactions
- Reduce cooking/preparing food on site
- Use marker systems and/or implement usage limits in toilets, change rooms etc.
You might finally have that excuse not to have so many low value meetings 🙂
- Reduce transmission due to face-to-face meetings
- Use remote tech/tools where possible
- Maintain SD where participants are together
- Avoid sharing objects e.g. pens, clickers etc.
Accidents & Incidents
It is important, once again, to take a risk-based approach to dealing with workplace accidents or incidents.
- Prioritise physical safety during incidents, according to risk level
- Provide hygiene equipment/PPE for responders
- Update training on latest CPR advice
- Establish protocol for dealing with suspected COVID 19 cases
- Identify first aid/isolation area with appropriate welfare facilities
Objective: To minimise the contact resulting from visits to stores, offices, outlets etc. Some key elements to think about are:
- Define how many people can be in store/shop/outlet at one time to maintain distancing
- Consider pinch points, flow of people, potential congestion areas etc.
- Provide suitable areas with markings for queuing where necessary
- Signage and visual aids at entry/exit points (Less is often more!!)
- Monitor compliance regularly or on ongoing basis – designate those responsible – integrate with existing systems
- Communications should be appropriate to audience – employees, customers, public etc.
Learn Risk Assessment for Free
We’ve created an Approved Trainer-led, online video course for Risk Assessment. Our step-by-step tutorial and activities will give your team the confidence to manage COVID-19 risk. Try out the FREE Module here.
Hygiene & Cleaning the Workplace
Objective: Making sure any work location that has been closed is prepared for restart (Plus reasonable ongoing hygiene measures!).
Before reopening Review the specific existing cleaning schedules and provision of hygiene products e.g. biocidal cleaners. Ensure ventilation (HVAC) systems are in good working order & optimised.
Keeping the workplace clean
- Review cleaning regimes to ensure frequent cleaning of surfaces, and objects that are touched often.
- Special guidance for ‘post-case’ cleaning – check specific guidance here.
- Liaise with cleaning team and with employees to agree repeatable strategy.
Hygiene – handwashing, sanitation & toilets
Objective is to maintain good hygiene throughout operational hours.
- Use signage to advise on hygiene facilities and to encourage correct behaviours
- Provide hand sanitiser and other materials where appropriate
- Enhance cleaning regime and consider frequency of waste removal
- Consider operating capacity in toilets/limiting number of users
Handling goods, merchandise and other materials
Reducing transmission by minimising contact with objects
- Limiting customer handling and interaction with employees
- Organising collection times to reduce build-up of people &/or goods
- Encouraging contactless transactions
- Provision of mechanical aids for large items – as opposed to 2-person lift etc.
PPE - COVID 19 Approach
Due to the nature of COVID-19, the use of PPE as a wholesale mitigation measure is generally not justified outside or sufficiently beneficial outside of clinical settings.
In other words, unless you are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is high, the costs will likely outweigh the benefit (risk reduction).
Also, if you are issuing PPE such as masks, they must be fitted properly for the user (face fit testing), otherwise any significant benefit can be undermined.
If an employee feels that a face covering is necessary or beneficial for them personally, they should be supported in that decision*.
Note: *Guidance on this aspect may change rapidly relative to government guidance and advice in a particular jurisdiction.
Managing your Workforce
Objective: To adapt the way work is managed to create distinct groups and reduce the number of contacts each worker has.
Think about the way work is organised, how workers interact currently and how the frequency of contact can be safely minimised. e.g. where contact is unavoidable, fix the group or teams to contain the contact between the same people.
- Minimising non-essential travel and maximising use of remote alternatives where possible
- Vehicle cleaning regimes should be reviewed, and same principles for social distancing used for vehicles, as far as practicable
- Consider keeping records of vehicle and people movements in case tracing is required
Deliveries – minimise person-to-person contact during process, keep pairs consistent where 2 people are required
Communications & Training
- Make sure to communicate in a simple, clear way – use imagery/visuals or even a podcast to help encourage safe behaviours & get feedback
- Provide opportunity for employees to raise concerns easily – how are you currently doing this?
COVID 19 Construction Guidance
Much of the guidance already outlined applies across different sectors. But of course, there are special considerations for each industry.
Here are some additional thoughts and helpful tips to help if you are working in construction or have a development site on your premises/under your control.
Social Distancing in Construction
- Reducing job rotation and equipment rotation, for example, single tasks for the day.
- Using signage such as ground markings or get creative with other objects to mark out 2m to allow controlled flows of people moving throughout the site
- Reducing movement by discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites. For example, restricting access to some areas, encouraging use of telephones where permitted, and cleaning them between use.
- Implementing one-way systems where possible on walkways around the workplace/site.
- Reducing occupancy of vehicles used for onsite travel e.g. shuttle buses – maximise distance within vehicles (see below)
- Separating sites into working zones to keep different groups of workers physically separated as much as practical.
- Planning site access and ‘area of safety’ points to enable social distancing.
- Reducing the number of people in attendance at site inductions and consider holding them outdoors wherever possible with social distancing.
- Monitoring or limiting the use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles
It is recognised that in outdoor workplaces it might be rare to have a fixed or static place of work. However, there may be some situations where this is the case.
- For people who work in one place, workstations should allow them to maintain social distancing wherever possible.
- Workstations should be assigned to an individual as much as possible. If they need to be shared, minimise no. of users
- If not possible to create distancing, consider If the process must continue or mitigate as far as practicable
- Use screens if necessary
- Use pairing systems to limit person-to-person contacts
- Avoid face-to-face arrangements
Managing Contacts in Construction
There are lots of moving parts on a construction project – it’s important to consider interactions between groups and how these can be limited.
- Where site visits are required, site guidance on social distancing and hygiene should be explained to visitors on or before arrival
- Encouraging visits via remote connection/working where this is an option
- Limiting the number of visitors at any one time
- Determining if schedules for essential services and contractor visits can be revised to reduce interaction and overlap between people
- Maintaining a record of all visitors, if this is practical
Other things to consider…
- Provide signage on any public rights of way to inform public on site rules
- Establish clearly ‘host’s responsibilities’ for anyone looking after visitors
- Special care should be taken to consider hygiene of portable welfare facilities
If your business needs any direct or remote support for COVID 19 Risk Assessment, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us via the contact options below.
NOTE: Please check latest guidance for your location &/or jurisdiction before implementing any of the above recommendations.
COVID 19 Support - need more help?
The type of direct support that we provide currently comes in 3 basic forms:
- Competent Person We provide flexible competent person support from a Chartered HSE professional*, working at a high level as your Health, Safety & Environmental representative.
- Partnering We can provide a range of HSE & Media support services that compliment your existing resources and that can be tailored to your business objectives.