8 Ways companies are making a safe return to the office

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  

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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
Groups

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.

Lift image

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

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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

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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

8. PPE?

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.

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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.

COVID-19 Update: Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill Introduced

On 20th May the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) introduced the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill. This, along with previously introduced measures, aims to relieve the burden on companies during the COVID-19 outbreak so that they can continue to operate.

What will the Bill do?

Essentially, the bill will:

– introduce temporary easements on filing requirements and Annual
General Meetings (AGMs)

– introduce new corporate restructuring tools to the insolvency regime
to give companies the time they need to maximise their chance of
survival

– temporarily suspend parts of insolvency law to support directors
during this difficult time

The temporary easements will increase flexibility on when AGMs are held and provide extensions for the following:

– confirmation statements

– accounts

– registrations of charges (mortgage)

– event-driven filings

It should be noted that the Bill must now go through Parliament. Many of the measures in the Bill require secondary legislation before coming into force. Until this legislation is introduced things will remain as they are. For more detailed information on the contents of the Bill see gov.uk.

Current Position on COVID-19 Extensions

Currently it is possible to apply for a 3 month extension to the deadline for the filing of accounts. Companies citing issues around COVID-19 will automatically be granted an extension but an application must be made before the deadline.

Deadlines remain unchanged on all other filing deadlines.

COVID-19 Update: More Support for Businesses Announced

Has your business been adversely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak? If so, you may be eligible for one of the following business support schemes.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

This scheme helps UK businesses with an annual turnover of up to £45 million to access loans and other finances up to £5 million.

The government guarantees 80% of the finance to the lender and pays interest and any fees for the first 12 months.

To qualify you must show that your business would be viable if not for the pandemic. Additionally, for loans of £30,000 or more you must confirm that your business wasn’t classed as a ‘business in difficulty’ on 31st December 2019.

The maximum length of loans is up to 3 years for overdrafts and invoice finance facilities or up to 6 years for loans and asset finance facilities. Applications can be made at any of the main retail banks.

Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan

This scheme allows companies adversely impacted by COVID-19 to borrow between £2000 and £50,000 and access the cash within days. The scheme applies to small and medium-sized UK businesses incorporated before 1st March 2020.

The government guarantees 100% of the loan with no fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months. After this period the interest rate will be 2.5% per annum.

A majority of the main retail banks operate as lenders for the scheme. The length of the loan is 6 years and no repayment is due in the first 12 months.

COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility

Under this scheme the Bank of England will buy short-term debt from large companies. The scheme is designed to support companies affected by a short-term funding squeeze. It will allow them to finance their short-term liabilities as well as support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms.

The scheme will operate for 12 months. Companies, and their financial subsidiaries, that make a material contribution to the UK economy being eligible.