8 ways Companies are making a safer return to the Office
With lockdown slowly easing many businesses are preparing for a return to work. In response the government has released detailed guidance for working safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres. The following discusses 8 ways to make a safe return to the office.
1. Making a risk assessment
Everyone needs to assess and manage the risks of COVID-19. Additionally employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of workers and customers. This is best achieved through the completion of a risk assessment, detailed guidance on which has been released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Results of the risk assessment should be shared with the workforce and displayed in a prominent place in the office and website. It is suggested that these forms could take the form of ‘COVID secure’ stickers similar to those used to demonstrate hygiene rating in restaurants.
2. Shift Patterns and Working
Government guidance (at the time of writing) remains that everyone should work from home unless they cannot. Where presence in the office is necessary companies are encouraged to adopt a layered approach to minimise risks. Only the minimum number of people required to operate the business effectively should be in the office. This means that vulnerable and high risk workers should be offered the option to continue to work from home.
The pandemic has forced many businesses to rethink the way work is organised. In order to reduce the number of contacts it is encouraged that businesses adopt a phased return approach, splitting their workforce into teams or shift groups so that where contamination occurs it is confined within a shift group.
3. Entrances, exits, and lifts
Due to their confined space entrances, exits, and lifts are an inevitable risk hot-spot. Government guidance recommends the staggering of arrival and departure times to reduce congestion and provision of handwashing facilities or sanitiser at entry and exit points.
Lifts are a particularly high-risk hazard for a number of reasons. To avoid risk it is recommended to avoid touching lift buttons with bare hands and for touchable lift surfaces to be cleaned on a regular basis. Due to the inability to maintain social distancing it is recommended to use them alone if possible. Where multiple people use the lift it is best to face away from each other and refrain from talking to prevent droplets from spreading.
4. Workplaces and Workstations
For people who work in one place, workstations should allow them to maintain social distancing wherever possible. Office layouts in which hot desks and shared workstations and are the norm will require significant alteration. The use of floor tape, similar to those ignored at supermarkets, has been recommended to aid workers in maintaining a 2m distance. Where it is not possible to move workstations further apart screens should be added to separate people.
5. Common Areas
Guidance relating to common areas includes the staggering of break times, use of space freed up by remote working and creation of safe outside break areas to reduce congestion. To avoid the inherent risks presented by an open canteen, some businesses have considered the provision of packaged meals to reduce risk of contamination. Similar to workstations, guidance recommends the installation of screens in reception and other common areas.
6. Managing Visitors
The main objective here is to minimise the number of unnecessary visitors to offices by encouraging continued use of visits via remote connection. Where a physical visit is necessary it is vital to explain the guidance to visitors before their arrival and encourage them to use the washing/sanitising facilities as they enter and leave the premises. In the event of an outbreak in the office it is recommended that all visits to the office by clients should be recorded.
7. Keeping Clean
Maintaining the cleanliness and tidiness of the office space goes a long way to prevent the transmission of disease. Most importantly:
– The frequent cleaning of work areas and equipment between uses
– Frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces touched regularly e.g. door
handles and keyboards
– Cleaning workspaces and removal of waste and belongings at the end
of a shift
– Encouraging good hygiene and handwashing technique through the
use of signs and posters
In the latest instalment of ‘should we wear PPE or not?’ the latest government guidance recommends that where PPE is currently used in the place of work its use should continue. However, workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE outside of clinical settings.
The guidance accepts that face coverings can offer a marginal benefit in circumstances where social distancing is not possible but add that evidence of face coverings protecting others is weak and the effect is likely to be small. Where face coverings are used it is important to avoid touching your face and to wash your hands before and after use.