The global Coronavirus pandemic was unprecedented. It has had a significant impact on our working and social lives and has been responsible for a high number of deaths throughout the UK. As necessary but restrictive lockdown measures are eased to help secure the UK’s economy, workforces across the country return to a “new normal”. For many organisations, additional safety measures need to be implemented and maintained to reduce risk and to help control the spread of the virus.
There are a wide range of safety measures available to help protect your employees, customers, and the wider community. Some measures are more useful or applicable in certain sectors, with a range of government guidance available online. However, the following fivemeasures are more generally applicable and can help you to ensure you have taken reasonable steps to keep your workforce safe from COVID-19.
Risk Assessments are common documents across all sectors and industries that typically list the hazards present in the workplace, or hazards that are created by carrying out a range of tasks and duties. The assessments indicate the level of risk from each hazard, as well as listing specific control measures that must be implemented to mitigate risk.
Carrying out a Coronavirus Risk Assessment helps ensure you take a methodical approach to assessing risk and identifying reasonable control measures that can be implemented to reduce risk. The assessment should be detailed enough to cover all activities that are undertaken by your organisation, as well as identifying all persons who could be at risk. Once complete, the document can be sent to all employees and displayed in a prominent location at your premises to ensure it is well communicated and understood.
While government is taking steps to reduce restrictive lockdown measures, key advice to employers remains the same – where your employees can work from home, they should be working from home. Many organisations adapted quickly to remote working practices, including the use of video conferencing software, setting up group chats, and carrying out daily or weekly team briefings. Unless your employees do work that is of a nature that cannot be carried out from home, such as production operatives and construction workers, then remote working practices should be implemented and maintained.
For employees who cannot work from home, it is vital that social distancing measures are implemented in the workplace. As of June 23rd 2020, the guidance is 2 metre social distancing. To help enforce this, employers can introduce a range of measures including: reduced numbers in the workplace at any one time, spreading out the workforce by changing the layout of offices and work spaces, minimising the maximum number of people permitted to be in one room, staggering tea and lunch breaks, allowing employees to eat at their desks or stations to reduce cross-contamination in communal areas, restricting visitors to the workplace, erecting Perspex screens and dividers, marking out social distancing lines on floors, and putting up posters as a reminder to socially distance.
Thorough cleaning regimes that were introduced at the start of the pandemic need to be maintained. This can include frequent disinfection of surfaces, equipment, door handles, and other touch points, regular emptying of bins, and removing shared cutlery and cups from use, etc. In addition, adequate hand hygiene must be maintained, and employees should have access to a suitable supply of hand washing materials, barrier and emollient creams, and hand sanitiser. A wide range of hands-free dispensers have become available on the market from local suppliers.
Where it is difficult to maintain social distancing, or work activities require employees to be in areas that have higher levels of traffic (or if employees feel more secure with PPE available), you should provide suitable PPE such as face masks or covering, or full face shields. This is particularly common for employees in the hospitality sector, in supermarkets, and on public transport. If supplying PPE to employees, ensure they know the correct methods to don and doff the equipment to ensure it provides adequate protection.
More information for employers can be found on the NI Direct website and the HSE website. The HSE website provides guidance for the UK and the rules in Northern Ireland may differ slightly. However, in general, the advice with regards to health and safety measures in the workplace is robust.