Coronavirus (COVID-19):  Updated guidance on returning to the workplace

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What do we already know?

We updated you in our June 2020 Newsletter Coronavirus (COVID-19): Returning to the workplace that the Government had issued workplace-specific guides on working safely during the Coronavirus pandemic.

What’s new?

As businesses continue to re-open their offices, the Government has updated their workplace guides (available here) to enable employers to operate safely (known as being “COVID secure”).

Employers should check the appropriate guidance for the types of workplace they operate as they make their plans, but check back regularly to see if updates have been made.

There are now 14 guides available:

  • close contact work (e.g. massage therapists, tailors, hairdressers) (NEW)
  • construction and outdoor work
  • factories, plants and warehouses
  • heritage locations (NEW)
  • hotels and guest accommodation (NEW)
  • labs and research facilities
  • offices and contact centres
  • other people’s homes
  • restaurants, pubs and takeaway services
  • shops and branches
  • vehicles
  • ‘visitor economy’ (tourist attractions, business events and consumer shows, as well as hotels and guest accommodation) (NEW)

The guidance has also been updated to include industry feedback and we can expect more changes to be made as time goes on.

Some new additions to consider in offices (available here), for example, include:

  • maintaining records of visitors, considering hygiene (for example, pen sharing arrangements) at reception, establishing host responsibilities for visitors to officers and providing training to those employees, reviewing entry and exit routes for visitors and contractors to minimise contact with other people, informing visitors that they may need to remove face coverings for identification purposes, and reviewing external messaging to visitors to make sure it does not provide information that may present a security risk – such as the location of queues, or the number of people permitted in a queue;
  • working collaboratively with landlords and other tenants in the same building;
  • holding ongoing engagement with workers (including through trade unions and employee reps) to monitor and understand unforeseen impacts of changes to working environments;
  • taking steps to avoid people needing to unduly raise their voices, such as avoiding playing music at a level that makes normal conversation difficult;
  • being aware of and focusing on, the impact of COVID-19 on employees’ mental health (see the Government’s new guidance on mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19 here); and
  • using clear simple messaging including images to explain new workplace rules, taking care to include those for whom English may not be their first language and those with visual impairments.
  • keeping records of staff contact details up to date, and storing temporary records for 21 days of staff shift patterns and of contact details of customers and visitors attending a workplace (to help NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed);
  • providing guidance on outbreaks in the workplace: as part of the employer’s risk assessment, the employer should have an up to date plan in case of an outbreak, including nominating a lead on contacting local Public Health teams. A suspected outbreak should be reported if there is more than one case of COVID-19 associated with the workplace. If the local Public Health team declares an outbreak, the employer will be asked to record details of symptomatic staff and assist with identifying contacts. Information about the outbreak management process will be provided, covering control measures, staff communications and prevention messaging.

HSE five steps guidance:

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also published guidance (available here) to help ensure ‘COVID secure’ workplaces.  The HSE encourages employers to take five practical steps, including:

  • carrying out coronavirus risk assessments in line with HSE guidance;
  • providing increased cleaning, hand washing and hygiene procedures;
  • taking reasonable steps to help people work from home;
  • maintaining two metres social distancing where possible; and
  • managing the risk of transmission where it is not possible to distance by two metres.

The HSE said it has found common workplace problems to include:

  • failure to monitor, supervise and maintain social distancing; and
  • failure to introduce adequate cleaning regimes and provide access to washroom facilities allowing employees to frequently wash their hands with soap and water.
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