How can businesses adapt to the new normal in the workplace?

What businesses need to do to provide a COVID-secure environment to adapt to a new normal in the workplace.

With lockdowns easing across the four nations of the United Kingdom, the government advice remains that people should work from home where possible.

This mainly applies to office workers, many of whom have found they can do their jobs just as easily and often more effectively from home.

This doesn’t mean that bosses can become complacent. For some office staff, the thought of continuing to work from home will sound like a nightmare. People who live in flats or houses with no outside space, those who thrive on social interaction and the structure of a daily commute may be desperate to get back to the office. So you need to be prepared.

Happy waiter displaying 'Open' sign while wearing mask

The need to provide a COVID-secure environment does not just apply to offices. There are many businesses that must operate out of their premises – ranging across the healthcare, hospitality, leisure, banking, pharmaceutical and food manufacturing sectors – to name just a few.

This blog will look at the sectors that have continued to be open throughout the pandemic, those that are cautiously reopening and those based in offices. We will examine the steps that have already been taken and provide guidance on what still must be done to protect workers and visitors.

Offices and contact centres

There are various steps to take to ensure your offices are COVID-secure. The first is to carry out a risk assessment.

Here’s what the Health & Safety Executive says is the absolute minimum:

  • Identify any hazards that could cause injury or illness in your business.
  • Assess the risk by deciding how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously.
  • Eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk.

You can find out more about how to control risks in your workplace on the HSE website.

Once you have completed your risk assessment, you must communicate this with all your staff. The HSE has designed a helpful notice – see below – that you should place in prominent positions all around your workplace. This will clarify what you have done and show those who are nervous about returning that you are following the guidance and doing everything you can to protect staff.

COVID secure contract

At its most effective, full involvement of your workers creates a culture where relationships between employers and workers are based on collaboration, trust and joint problem-solving. It is standard practice for workers to be involved in assessing workplace risks. They can then help develop and review workplace health and safety policies in partnership with the employer.

Employers and workers should always come together to resolve issues. If concerns still cannot be resolved, the HSE has a valuable guide for employees.

Employers must also provide adequate handwashing, sanitation and toilet facilities.

They should use signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique, the need to increase handwashing frequency, avoid touching your face and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into your arm if a tissue is not available.

Employers must, at the very least, carry out the following actions to help mitigate the risk of an outbreak:

  1. Increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
  2. Use screens or barriers to separate people from each other.
  3. Place people back-to-back or side-to-side when working (rather than face-to-face).
  4. Reduce the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed terms or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others in their own ‘bubble’).
  5. Provide hand sanitiser in multiple locations in addition to washrooms.
  6. Provide usage and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible.
  7. Establish enhanced cleaning regimes for busy areas.
  8. Provide hand drying facilities –paper towels, continuous roller towels or electric dryers.
  9. Ensure that indoor spaces are well ventilated, for example, by keeping open doors and windows where appropriate.

In busy offices where people have to move around a lot, employers should consider providing their staff with a wearable hand sanitiser such as Orbel, which is with them wherever they go.

Factories, warehouses and manufacturers

The government advice is similar to offices and contact centres, with some notable differences.

You need to start with a COVID-19 risk assessment, including considering the reasonable adjustments necessary for staff and customers with disabilities – and share it with all your staff.

It is imperative to ensure you do the following:

  1. Clean more frequently. If you have surfaces that are touched a lot, it’s vital to clean them more often. You should also ask staff, visitors or contractors to wash their hands and/or use a hand sanitiser.
  2. Remind both visitors and staff to wear face coverings.This applies to all indoor spaces, and it’s essential to put up signs to remind people what they have to do. Some exemptions apply. Check when to wear a face covering, exemptions, and how to make your own.
  3. Make sure everyone is social distancing. Again, using signs will provide a reminder to everyone. It may also be helpful to introduce a one-way system that people can follow.
  4. Provide plenty of ventilation. You must ensure that there is adequate fresh air in all enclosed spaces. This can be natural ventilation through windows, doors and vents, mechanical ventilation using fans and ducts, or a combination of both. Read advice on air conditioning and ventilation from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
  5. Take part in NHS Test and Trace. Check ‘Maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace’ for details.
  6. Turn away anyone with COVID symptoms. If an employee (or someone in their household) or a visitor has a persistent cough, a high temperature or has lost their sense of taste or smell, they should be isolating. You must not insist that they come into work as this would be an offence.
  7. Consider the mental health and wellbeing aspects of COVID-19 for yourself and others. The government has published guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Manager wearing mask in warehouse

Six more things to be aware of if you work in or run factories, plants and warehouses:

  • Only use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where appropriate. In situations where you’ve implemented the wearing of PPE, this practice should be continued. There are, however, situations where introducing PPE may not be beneficial. You can find out more here.
  • Work with the same team every day. Use fixed teams or shift patterns to reduce the number of people each person comes into contact with.
  • Arrange workspaces to keep staff apart. You can do this by installing barriers between workstations or introducing back-to-back or side-to-side working.
  • Inbound and outbound goods. If you can, restrict the number of deliveries and try to use the same teams where more than one person is needed.
  • If you play music, keep the volume down. This prevents people from speaking loudly or shouting, which may increase the risk of aerosol transmission of the virus.
  • Communicate with and train your staff. Make sure all employees and customers are kept informed and that they have the appropriate training.

Hospitality and leisure

The hospitality sector includes a wide range of businesses from restaurants and takeaways, pubs, hotels and B&Bs. Companies falling into the leisure category include those in travel and tourism, gyms and theme parks. Personal care businesses such as hairdressers and beauty salons also fall under this category.

Now that the second phase of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown has begun, employers across these sectors must ensure that their premises are COVID-secure.

On 12 April, many leisure and hospitality businesses reopened, and from 17 May the restrictions will be further lifted to allow indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas to reopen. So too will hotels, hostels and B&Bs.

To reopen safely, hospitality and leisure business must take several steps to ensure their premises are safe.

To start with – you guessed it – business owners are requested to carry out a risk assessment in consultation with staff.

In addition to the steps outlined for office and warehousing, you also need to:

Workers at hotel front desk

You need to take these requirements seriously: any business found not to be complying with these rules will be subject to financial penalties.

You must comply with these requirements to help keep people safe and to keep businesses open.

Also, from 17 May, you will be able to serve customers in groups of six people or two households of any size indoors or in groups of up to 30 people outdoors.

You may wish to erect outdoor shelters. To be considered ‘outdoors’, awnings, marquees and other structures can have a roof but need to have at least 50% of the area of their walls open at all times whilst in use.

Check here for the full guidelines.

Healthcare

The guidance for primary and community health services follows the same advice as for all other sectors, with these additional rules:

  • You must ensure that all premises provide optimal hand hygiene, with regular decontamination of surfaces and ventilation.
  • In situations where it isn’t possible to create a COVID-secure environment through all the usual measures, a local assessment may conclude that primary and community healthcare staff, when not otherwise required to use personal protective equipment, should wear a face mask.
  • Where a COVID-19 secure environment cannot be maintained, patients and members of the public entering primary and community healthcare premises should be advised to use face coverings in line with government advice.

Summary

Now that we’re on the cusp of freedom, businesses across all sectors must adhere to strict government guidelines or risk closure. Much of the guidance is enforced by law, so if you don’t follow it, you may be committing an offence.

If you need support in getting your workplace ready for the post-pandemic future, get in touch to find out about our solutions.