With ever changing guidance and directives concerning priorities that organisations need to consider during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, business owners and workplace managers need to ensure they remain fully up to date with current guidance to ensure they keep people safe.
All individuals must play their part in risk assessing and managing COVID-19 and businesses must give due consideration and take appropriate action regarding potential and actual risks to their customer, client base or employees.
Employers are legally accountable and have a responsibility to ensure they safeguard their workers and other individuals from any risks to health & safety – they must exercise their duties to actively reduce risks in the workplace through implementing measures of a preventative nature.
Always check with the government at Gov.uk directly for updated and advice tailored to your own business situation.
Taking into account ongoing (and often changing) guidance can be a confusing process for many, however, for any business to ensure their premises stay safe for customers, visitors, and employees, it is an essential process.
There are key points to implement for any business owner or workplace manager which will enable an organisation to maintain their duty of care to all.
Where premises have been closed for business or been operating with restricted part-time hours, these will need to be thoroughly cleaned and risk assessed before reopening. Effective and frequent ongoing cleaning/sanitisation of all areas will need to be maintained in the entire workplace and premises, ensuring the health and safety of all staff, customers, and visitors is upheld.
Maintaining the wellbeing of all visitors, employees and customers in any business is of paramount importance to all organisations. The health, safety, and wellbeing of all should be a primary and ongoing concern and not potentially or deliberately compromised in any situation. Some premises will be required to maintain records of customers, staff, and visitors to help support the NHS Test and Trace system and these will be required in specific sectors.
Regular handwashing by all and effective, regular cleaning of all surfaces must be frequently undertaken. Handwashing and hand hygiene posters can help promote handwashing techniques that are effective, alongside the useful provision of hand sanitiser (where applicable). Businesses should ensure that handwashing facilities are readily available and accessible.
Workplaces must take steps to provide their employees with a safe environment (e.g. working remotely or in a safe business environment). Guidelines around social distancing (as stipulated by the UK government) should be maintained and of at least 1 metre (2 metres if possible). Risk mitigation strategies should be considered and implemented where applicable.
Where guidelines for social distancing cannot be implemented fully (or an activity cannot be adapted to meet these), employers need to give consideration to the continuation of these activities, whether they are needed for future operations and look to reduce risks where possible and appropriate.
Employers must ensure where customers/clients or employees feel unwell, they remain at home, not attending the organisation's premises.
Workplaces should implement a strategy which will enable employees to not unnecessarily raise their voice (e.g. wherever possible, avoid noisy environments which could encourage an employee to shout). This is because louder communication methods (e.g. ‘shouting’) might raise the potential of ‘aerosol transmission' between individuals.
As with social distancing guidelines, there has been a wealth of information around the currently mandatory face covering or face mask requirement. Face coverings are now required for all shop/supermarket customers and other customer-based settings, including on public transport, and customers should be encouraged to use these according to current guidelines.
Some workplaces will need to consider face covering use alongside other required PPE that might be in place for their workforce. A face covering can be quite basic and is simply required to cover the nose and mouth, but in some areas of work (e.g. health and care settings or industrial areas) a face mask will be appropriate. Remember that a face covering is not a substitute for other methods of risk management. Additional information and guidance can be viewed regarding face coverings which provides further advice.
Business owners and managers should take steps to ensure they understand and implement guidelines which are applicable for their workplace by following appropriate and current UK government guidance (see end of article links).
Some settings (such as hospitals or healthcare settings) will need to follow specific advice and guidance on the safe and appropriate use of PPE which is available via the Gov.uk information pages.
The rules and advice for social distancing have been debated in detail during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, often causing apparent confusion and sometimes a little controversy. Where possible, remember an ideal distance of 2 metres between employees or customers should be maintained and if this is not achievable, a 1 metre distance should be in force whilst using appropriate risk management measures. This might be a particularly challenging issue to tackle in customer-facing businesses such as shops, hairdressers, and other premises which have a regular footfall. The UK Government has produced indepth guidance for shops and branches which outline the necessary steps and advice that needs to be implemented.
Social distancing guidance equally applies to an employee's arrival and later departure from their workplace, when moving between internal areas or sites, and during all their working hours.
In order to help manage social distancing risks and look to reduce these risks to employees, business owners and managers might wish to consider restricting how many individuals each employee has any contact with (e.g. via a set team of colleagues). Rather than using directly facing seating/chairs or working positions, consider adopting a ‘sideways' working approach which might provide a safer option. Where this is not possible, a protective screened area might be appropriate to safely ‘divide' employees.
Where possible, workers should engage in activities for as shorter period as possible. Remember, social distancing measures apply equally to all business areas where work and rest periods are undertaken (e.g. staff rooms, canteen/dining areas, access and exits and all other areas). Businesses might look to change an employee's start and finish times to ensure a workforce safely arrives using a more ‘staggered' approach, thus avoiding too many staff gathered at any point (consider shift patterns and rota hours).
Bigger businesses might also wish to consider a larger range of staff entrances and exits to their premises and ensure that hand hygiene facilities are readily available at these points. There are different options available for a choice of businesses, and by ensuring the latest government issued advice is followed, workplaces can ensure they remain as safe as possible.
Take care to implement any current guidance regarding group socialising (e.g. as of September 2020, this is restricted to groups of no more than six people).
Remember – to maximise the health and safety of all, consider implementing more frequent hand hygiene/washing measures for all workers and importantly ensure the workplace environment is regularly cleaned and sanitised in all areas.
Businesses such as shops, stores and branches will need to consider how they manage and reduce contact that may occur from visits to their premises. Business proprietors and managers need to consider (and calculate) how many customers are to be permitted and ensure guidelines around social distancing within indoor and outdoor areas are upheld. Organisations might wish to consider reducing the total amount of customers in their premises at any one time, look at ‘customer flow’ through the area (e.g. keep to one way only) and ensure that building ventilation is maximised to enable a supply of fresh air circulated in all areas.
It is important to remind customers to restrict touching any products available where possible and provide ongoing encouragement to use facilities for handwashing/sanitising, helping to ensure optimal levels of hand hygiene (e.g. when entering the premises). Children and young people should always be within the supervision of adults and must uphold guidelines for social distancing.
Where achievable, encourage customers to visit or shop alone. External areas and car parks should be considered during the total risk mitigation process (e.g. to avoid potential customer queues and ‘gatherings’ who are not socially distancing in the area).
Work related travel also needs careful assessment, and where possible look to reduce or eliminate travel that is not necessary to promote people's safety.
Workplaces that deliver to other sites will need to take measures in ensuring their employees are safe and vehicles are appropriately cleaned in between use/shifts. Refer to specific government advice for further information around this.
For businesses that manage goods that are incoming and outgoing, specific steps will need to be put into place to ensure that social distancing is maintained effectively and prevent any surface contamination during the process of goods leaving or entering a site/premises.
Owners and managers of cafes and restaurants need to make reference to specific guidance on how to keep their employees and customers safe throughout the COVID-19 challenges. Businesses that provide services of a 'close contact' nature (such as barbers/hairdressers, tattooists, etc) must also take into account further guidance and directives available via ' Close contact services' .
Remember, the advice to ensure your business or workplace remains safe is changing frequently and this information should only be used as a guide.
It is essential to keep up to date with the latest advice and guidance from the UK government so that any business, organisation or company may fully promote the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees, volunteers, customers, visitors and members of the public at all times.
Providers of health and social care settings are required to follow specific guidance for the sector. Search for more ‘care' based resources on the GOV.UK site