Return to work
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has interrupted many businesses across the country. While it’s unclear how long COVID-19 will continue to affect organisations, many employers are looking to the future of employees returning to work.
Safe reoccupation of buildings
It is a good idea to perform a risk assessment of reopening before reoccupation takes place and to check that the premises are safe to receive returning employees. If you own the premises you are responsible, but in offices that are rented, obtain confirmation from the landlord and keep this on file.
Steps that might need to be taken include:
- Safe reinstatement of power and gas supplies by a trained professional.
- Safe reinstatement of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.
- Ensuring lifts/escalators have been checked and certificates have not expired.
- Water supplies need to be reinstated and Legionella checks performed. Water that has been standing in tanks carries the risk of bacterial contamination that can cause Legionella disease. This is especially important where shower facilities are provided for employees. Cold water systems should be maintained, where possible, at a temperature below 20°C. Hot water should be stored at least at 60°C and distributed so that it reaches a temperature of 50°C within one minute at the outlets. Public Health England has published an information sheet. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also has more information on its website. For multi-tenanted premises, it is important to liaise with the building manager on a strategy for safe social distancing in shared areas and what the protocols will be for the use of lifts and stairwells, for example, one-way systems.
- Consider deep cleaning of the office by a professional contractor.
- You may need to re-configure the office to ensure that social distancing can be observed. This could also include meeting rooms, cafeterias/kitchens and reception areas. Consider the layout of desk banks and possibly use perspex screens where necessary.
- Assess whether social distancing can be achieved in toilets and canteen facilities. You may need to stagger the use of these facilities and supervise or control entry and exit.
Employee and visitor information track and trace
It is good practice to collect the following information where possible:
- The names and contact details of employees who work at the premises. (You may already have this information for payroll purposes.) However, you need to consider and ensure that it is also recorded for temporary and agency workers. The same applies for those visiting from another of your office locations.
- A contact phone number for each employee.
- The dates and times that people are at work (Shift Rota).
Customers and visitors
- The name of the customer or visitor. If there is more than one person, then you can record the name of the ‘lead member’ of the group and the number of people in the group.
- A contact phone number for each customer or visitor, or for the lead member of a group of people.
- Date of visit, arrival time and, where possible, departure time.
- If a customer will interact with only one employee, that name is to be recorded alongside the name of the customer.
- No additional data needs to be collected for this purpose and remember your obligations under the Data Protection Act.
The NHS has published guidance on track and trace for businesses to support the national effort.
While the risk of Covid-19 cannot be eliminated in the workplace, there are plenty of practical steps you can take to mitigate the risk:
- Consider a phased re-opening of the office. This could entail splitting the workforce in half and having each cohort work alternate weeks from home. This would make social distancing plans more attainable and mitigate the risk of all your employees falling ill simultaneously should an outbreak occur at your premises.
- Where practical, encourage able bodied employees to use stairs to minimise use of lifts of a group of people.
- For larger work forces, consider staggered start/departure times to avoid congestion in lobby areas.
- Look to provide the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Identify employees who are more vulnerable to the virus and advise them to stay and work from home.
- Confirm with all employees that they are symptom free before they are allowed to return to work. Furthermore, confirm that they have not been in contact within the last 14 days with someone who has had, or is suspected to have had, Covid-19, or someone who has been required to self-isolate with suspected Covid-19.
- Ensure that hand sanitisers/hand washing stations are conveniently located.
- Establish protocols for meeting rooms – what is the maximum capacity in each to ensure safe social distancing?
- Minimise the number/frequency of physical meetings with customers or vendors by using technology.
- Put in place a ‘traffic’ system for employees to safely navigate the office and maintain social distancing. Post clear signage so that staff and visitors are reminded to sanitise their hands upon entering the premises.
- Arrange seating in waiting areas to ensure social distancing. At reception, erect a perspex screen to protect a receptionist.
- Confirm all necessary insurance policies are in force and that insurers are aware of your re-opening schedule and operational status.
- Institute a regular and thorough cleaning regime.
- Revisit fire/evacuation plans in light of Covid-19. For multi-tenanted buildings, liaise with other occupiers to develop an overall evacuation strategy.
- Have a clear plan should an employee develop symptoms
Document your work
It is important to evidence the work you have done to reopen your business and to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 affecting employees or visitors on an ongoing basis. To this end, it is a good idea to document the following:
- Assess: review all areas of work activity, look for contact points between employees and others, possibly any members of the public or delivery drivers and consider / reassess if these can be managed within the current social distancing guidelines. Update your risk assessments to reflect any changes.
- Train and inform: communicate with your employees and customers about what the new changes may mean, ensuring that they fully understand and above all document and record all training and information going forward. It is important that all employees are trained in the requirements of your re-opening plan. It might make sense to circulate the plan to seek confirmation that employees have read, understood and will comply with it. Make sure that they understand fully how to manage the social distancing guidelines and the importance of regular handwashing.
- Clean: review welfare arrangements and facilities provided.
- Document: It is good practice for all risk assessments, actions, plans and procedures to be documented – you may be required to produce evidence of compliance to a regulator. Monitor and Review: It is also a good idea to closely monitor the reopening phase closely and review your plan regularly in light of any developments to ensure all is well and up to date. Update: your Business Continuity Plan (BCP) plan in light of Covid-19 and how it would respond to a second wave/lockdown.