June 3, 2020

Return to work after lockdown

What steps should we take to protect the health and safety of your employees in the workplace?

It goes without saying that the impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented (a word which has become entirely overused in the last few weeks but is nevertheless still accurate!) and research on how to limit the spread and treat those infected is very much still developing. This understandably makes it difficult for employers to assess and put in place appropriate measures.

Nevertheless, under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all of the work activities carried out by their employees, including homeworkers, to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk. Before any return, therefore, an employer should carry out this assessment and take measures to mitigate any risks identified. This should be reviewed regularly.

Employers are legally required to provide employees with specific information about health and safety risks and the measures to prevent and protect against those risks. Employers should think about further steps they could take to reassure and communicate with employees, for example by setting up employee-led committees or forums to discuss, practically speaking, what measures can be taken. As a minimum, employers should provide a point of contact for employees so they can discuss any concerns.

Employers should agree a safe system of work with staff or staff representatives (including trade unions) that is likely to assist significantly with returning staff to the workplace and defending any claims that the employer is being unreasonable.

Managing ongoing health and safety risks is likely to include the following:

1. Rearranging desks and workstations to ensure that these are at least two metres apart and/or not facing each other.

2. Ending hot desk arrangements to avoid staff sharing equipment.

3. Limiting the number of people who are in the office at any one time. This could include, for instance, splitting a team in two and requiring each team to attend the office on alternate weeks or swap mid-week.

4. Providing face masks for employees to wear and providing information on how they should be used depending on Government guidance on this.

5. Using floor markings to mark two metres in areas which employees use frequently, including, for instance, the entrance and exit to the building.

6. Allowing employees who travel in on public transport to have more flexible start and finish times to allow them to avoid any rush hour.

7. Restricting employees from attending non-essential meetings or work social events.

8. Providing an area for employees to go if they are presenting with coronavirus symptoms at work.

9. Providing access to handwash, hand sanitiser and reminding employees of the recommended hygiene measures.

10. Temporarily closing any common areas where social distancing will be difficult to achieve.

11. Increasing deep cleaning of the office, particularly in relation to surfaces that are regularly touched, such as door handles, taps, doors and light switches.

Employers should also continue to consider how to protect the mental health of their employees and provide guidance to managers on how to assist and when to escalate concerns. For instance, if the employer has an Employee Assistance Programme available this should be highlighted to them and employees should be encouraged to keep in touch with their team members, particularly those who have to remain at home whilst the rest of the workforce is returning.

We have the opportunity to provide a free employee survey up until the end of May. If you are interested give us a call on 07375 097443.

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