As infection rates of the Omicron COVID-19 variant rise across the UK, the Government has…
As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, businesses must assess how their work environment and arrangements can be made safe for employees and visitors.
In response to the Government guidance, we have put together guidelines on the steps you may need to take as a business to provide safe working arrangements.
COVID-19 risk assessment
All employers with more than five members of staff must carry out and publish a written risk assessment. Those with 50 or more employees are required to publish this document on their website and display a signed poster, which can be found here.
Any risk assessment must consider and provide information on:
- Scenarios that could lead to transmission of the virus
- Steps a business may take to mitigate risk
Remember – As per the Government’s latest guidance, where possible, employees should continue to work from home if they can. This is particularly important for vulnerable groups.
As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect your employees and others that visit your business, from harm.
Precautions for those returning to work
Where possible you should try and ensure as many employees as possible can continue to work from home, as per the Government’s guidance.
Where employees cannot work from home, you should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning to prevent the spread of this virus.
Staff must also maintain the two-metre social distancing guidelines and you should consider reconfiguring workspaces to help with this where required.
Where social distancing cannot be observed due to the work environment other measures may need to be taken.
Detailed guidance on the various precautions recommended for different workplaces can be found by clicking here.
We recommend that you read these guidelines and consider how you can incorporate these measures into your work arrangements.
Vulnerable employees and visitors
The Government has advised that all vulnerable individuals, such as those with underlying health conditions or in at-risk groups, should remain at home and not return to work.
Where this is not possible, you should ensure that additional caution is taken to observe social distancing rules.
You should continue to follow and monitor Government guidance to ensure vulnerable groups remain protected.
It is important that you do not discriminate against those required to self-isolate or shield, taking into consideration the protected characteristics defined under the Equality Act 2010 (e.g. due to their age or disability).
Allowances should also be given for those who live with or care for someone that is extremely vulnerable.
If you believe an employee may fit into one of these groups, we recommend that you speak with them to ensure the necessary steps can be taken to provide a safe work environment.
All workspaces must be cleaned regularly, and, where possible, windows and doors should be opened regularly to encourage ventilation.
Care must also be taken in respect of the delivery of merchandise or goods that enter the workplace so that they can be cleaned to prevent the spread of the virus.
Where required, additional signage should be installed to remind employees to regularly wash their hands and use hand sanitiser/wash stations provided.
The working environment
As well as encouraging more frequent cleaning, you may be required to take additional measures around the workplace to ensure staff and visitor safety.
This may include:
- Reducing movement by discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites, for example, restricting access to some areas, encouraging the use of telephones, where permitted, and cleaning them between use.
- Reducing job and location rotation.
- Introducing more one-way flow through buildings.
- Regulating the use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to maintain social distancing.
Within specific work areas, you may also be required to:
- Review layouts and processes to allow people to work further apart from each other.
- Use floor tape or paint to mark areas to help workers keep to a two-metre distance.
- Only where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, arranging people to work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face.
- Only where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, using screens to separate people from each other.
- Managing occupancy levels to enable social distancing.
- Avoid the use of hot desks and spaces and, where not possible, for example, call centres or training facilities, cleaning and sanitising workstations between different occupants including shared equipment.
You should also consider common areas of the building, such as waiting areas and break rooms, and take actions to manage risk, including:
- Staggering break times to reduce pressure on break rooms or canteens.
- Using safe outside areas for breaks.
- Creating additional space by using other parts of the workplace or building that have been freed up by remote working.
- Installing screens to protect staff in receptions or similar areas.
- Encouraging workers to bring their own food.
- Reconfiguring seating and tables to maintain spacing and reduce face-to-face interactions.
- Regulating the use of locker rooms, changing areas and other facility areas to reduce concurrent usage.
- Encouraging storage of personal items and clothing in personal storage spaces, for example, lockers.
You should take these measures, and include them within your risk assessment, as and when required to maintain proper social distancing and to reduce the risk of infections.
Travel and commuting
Employees returning to work should be asked to avoid public transport where possible to reduce the spread of the virus.
Employees should also be reminded to maintain a distance of two metres if required to use public transport.
To assist with the travel to and from work, further measures may be taken including:
- Staggering arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of the impact on those with protected characteristics.
- Limiting passengers in corporate vehicles.
- Reducing congestion, for example, by having more entry points to the workplace.
- Using markings and introducing one-way flow at entry and exit points.
- Providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitiser at entry and exit points and not using touch-based security devices such as keypads.
- Defining process alternatives for entry/exit points where appropriate, for example, deactivating turnstiles requiring pass checks in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance.
Employers should discuss any changes to travel arrangements if they believe it may affect their regular working hours.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings
As part of the risk assessment process, you should review the use of PPE and face coverings in the workplace and if they are required request that staff use the correct equipment.
If employees indicate that they would like to use a face covering at work, you should remind them to thoroughly wash their hands before putting a mask on or taking a mask off.
Face masks should also be replaced after each use. They do not replace the need for proper social distancing at all times.
Should you need to introduce shift patterns or change existing working arrangements as employees return to the workplace, you should give those workers affected plenty of notice beforehand.
If staff have any queries regarding a change to working arrangements, they should be encouraged to speak with you at the earliest opportunity to see how you can assist them.
Any changes to work arrangements or the work environment should be properly communicated with your employees and you are encouraged to consult with them, trade unions and health and safety representatives when preparing a risk assessment.
Once your risk assessment has been prepared you should share it with your employees so they are aware of the steps they need to take and the measures that you are introducing.