Through the entirety of the pandemic, social distancing has been a critical part of safety protocol. We have been asked to keep away from others, leaving two metres distance where possible. Although it is not yet known what role social distancing will play as restrictions continue to unlock, space will likely continue to be recommended to limit the spread of coronavirus and other diseases.
However, distance isn’t always possible. This is a battle that many providers of close contact services have had to deal with, finding ways to keep their staff and customers safe while carrying out their jobs.
For a large part of the last year and a half, close contact services were halted. As they now return to work, it is essential that they put in place adequate protocols that protect their health while allowing people to feel safe when using their services. This applies to hairdressers, barbers, beauticians, tattooists, masseurs, sports therapists and tailors, to name just a few.
We have examined the potential risks facing close contact services in the post-coronavirus world and outlined the precautions they can implement to enable them to return to work without experiencing outbreaks.
As the term ‘close contact’ would suggest, the services that fall into this category require staff and customers to be near each other. This makes it impossible to maintain the advised two metres of space outlined in coronavirus guidance.
To make up for the lack of social distancing, the wearing of face masks must be utilised. Masks can stop the spread of COVID-19 particles from one person to another, so they should be worn by staff and customers when you occupy the same space. Make it clear to customers that they need to do this ahead of their visit, so there is no room for miscommunication.
There may be some instances, such as for facial treatments, that your customers cannot wear masks, but you should continue to do so. You can choose to wear a visor too for additional protection.
While you are unable to distance from the customer you are working with, you can distance from others within the workplace. If other staff members are working with different customers, consider ways that you can spread out. This could include separate rooms for treatments, spaced out workstations of at least two metres and screens between customers.
You will also want to minimise the number of staff working with one customer. If you previously had teams carrying out specific tasks, ask if this can be reduced to one person and allow other staff to do their jobs away from the customer. This will enable you to limit the amount of close contact required and minimise the risk of transmission.
Flow of people
Although you cannot socially distance yourself from the customer you are serving, you still need to keep them apart from other customers and staff members as much as possible. This means trying to control the flow of people in your workplace to prevent crowding or unnecessary contact. This affects waiting rooms and walkways too.
If possible, implement one-way systems around your premises to stop people from crossing paths. You should also try to mark out separate entrances and exits to limit doorway crowding. If you don’t have room for one-way systems, focus on encouraging customers to maintain distance when moving around your business, such as through signage. You may also choose to have staff escort customers around the space so that you can have better control over their movement.
Another precaution you should incorporate is staggered arrival times. Aim to book appointments so that a minimal number of people are held in waiting rooms and don’t arrive at once. You should also ask customers not to show up to their appointments early.
If you have other people on-site, such as couriers or other visitors, try to get them to come at off-peak times, so it doesn’t add more traffic on top of your employees and customers.
In the post-pandemic age, cleanliness will take on new precedence. Customers will expect you to undertake adequate cleaning of your premises. Doing so will enable them to feel comfortable using your business while helping to reduce infection rates in your workplace.
You should look to clean workstations and equipment in between every customer. Although the risk of transmission from surfaces is minimal, coronavirus particles linger and cleaning down areas between appointments can stop germs from spreading from one customer to the next.
You should also carry out more extensive cleaning of the entire premise at the end of each working day, using anti-bacterial equipment to kill any infection before you welcome a new round of customers.
On top of cleaning your work surfaces, you also need to maintain healthy hygiene among customers and staff. This means encouraging regular handwashing and sanitiser use.
Staff should look to wash their hands between customers, as well as after using the bathroom and eating. If they are doing skin-to-skin contact, they may also want to consider washing their hands in between handling equipment or wear gloves to limit the spread of germs.
You should encourage customers to wash their hands upon arrival at an appointment. If you have limited handwashing facilities, it may be advisable to leave hand sanitiser at entrances so people can disinfect their hands when they come in.
It might also be worth providing personal sanitisers to your staff so that they have constant access to hand hygiene, even when on the move or when they have limited time between customers. By combining sanitiser and handwashing, you can ensure better compliance to hygiene across your workplace.
Another recommended protocol that businesses can take to reduce the risk of transmission is to ensure good ventilation across the workplace. By utilising ventilation, you can lower the number of coronavirus particles in the air and allow them to disperse further away. As coronavirus is partially spread by aerosol transmission, this can stop people from catching it.
There are two ways to introduce ventilation into your indoor space: mechanically or naturally. With mechanical ventilation, you can use air conditioning units and vents to bring air into the premises. Alternatively, you can open windows and doors to allow for natural airflows to enter.
When implementing COVID-secure measures, you need to ensure all your staff are aware of the policy and abide by it. This will help to encourage compliance across your business. You may even choose to use coronavirus specific training that teaches staff the best practice to follow and why it matters.
On top of this, you should make sure that staff know to stay at home when they feel unwell and feel comfortable doing so. There should be no penalties for them having to take sick leave, such as docked pay, especially when they risk infecting other employees and customers by coming in. This also applies if they need to isolate because someone they have been in contact with tests positive for COVID-19.
To lessen the threat of outbreaks occurring in your workplace, you should utilise testing of your staff. While the deadline to apply for tests for your business has passed, it is still possible to hire third parties to take care of it on your behalf or set up your own system. Similarly, your employees can order testing kits to complete at home or find a local testing centre. By undertaking regular testing, you can catch any cases among your employees ahead of time and prevent them from spreading.
Test and trace
When welcoming customers into your business, it is vital to record who has been in and when. If someone tests positive – whether it’s a staff member or customer – you can make sure those who may have been in contact with them are aware and can take the necessary steps to protect others.
There are many ways to track your customers. Some businesses display a QR code that visitors can scan when entering the premises, with the NHS Test and Trace app alerting them if they have potentially been near an infected party. Alternatively, you can use your booking system or a logbook to note down who has visited and when.
Some businesses may also choose to carry out temperature checks on customers when they arrive on site. If a high temperature is flagged, which can be a sign of coronavirus, the customer can be sent home and encouraged to take a test.
Remember to inform your customers about the approach you are taking. You might create a policy where both you and the customer agree to notify the other party about any illnesses and not come into the workplace if there are any problems. This will manage expectations and indicate to customers that you are taking a proactive stance in your coronavirus safety.
Every business needs to do what it can to facilitate COVID security for the protection of staff, customers and other visitors.
For close contact service providers, it can be a challenge to compensate for the risk of proximity and the inability for social distancing. However, the increased threat makes it ever more critical that you implement effective procedures.
Incorporating thorough cleaning, robust hygiene, testing, PPE, ventilation and contact-limiting measures in your workplace will enable you to overcome the obstacles and reduce the chances of coronavirus outbreaks.
With some people still anxious after the easing of lockdown restrictions, this will also help you ease any concerns and welcome people safely back into your premises. You can then focus on recovering your business and serving customers.
If you need help in adapting your workplace and staff to post-pandemic requirements, we can help. We have access to a range of solutions, including training programmes and personal sanitation devices, so that you can limit COVID-19 dangers.