Employers have a duty of care to take steps to ensure the health and safety and welfare of all their employees. Businesses that employ more than five people are legally obliged to have a written health and safety policy or statement which is circulated and available to employees. These are usually placed on noticeboards and reception areas of workplaces where they can be easily viewed.
Companies who are returning to work from closure due to coronavirus and those who have continued to work throughout the lockdown should have an action plan in place as to what to do to help protect the workforce from the virus and importantly what to do if someone at work shows symptoms of the virus.
Having an HR action plan for COVID-19 in the workplace will help employers and their management team to remain compliant with legal obligations and help to take the necessary steps to prepare and to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus from occurring.
Companies will also need to ensure that they are conducting risk assessments across the workplace and documenting these risk assessments making them visible to all employees. As more employees return to work, and as government guidelines change, these risk assessments should be revised and updated.
Action plan for preventing a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace
Following the Governments decision to lift the lockdown restrictions in England on 19 July, workers have been gradually going back to the office after months of working from home. However, as the virus still exists, the possibility of contracting COVID-19 remains very real. This is why employers need to create an action plan for preventing a COVID-19 outbreak in the office. From a reviewed risk assessment to a laser focus on hygiene and provide support and flexibility to your staff – here are the steps you need to take to ensure your organisation is ready to go to work safely.
In preparation to prevent an outbreak a company’s HR action plan should include:
- Inform employees of the symptoms to be aware of and what to do if they experience any of the symptoms, providing any updates or changes on symptoms.
- Promote good hygiene practices for employees, by informing employees to wash hands regularly with soap and water or hand sanitiser, use disposable tissues when sneezing or coughing and throwing these away immediately afterwards and avoid touching mouth, nose, or eyes. Remind employees where these facilities can be found around the workplace using signage if available.
- In break areas encourage employees to bring their own crockery and take it home to clean every day.
- Ensure that there are enough PPE supplies for employees in the areas required, including an increase of hand sanitisers across the workplace, face masks or protective screens if necessary if 2m distancing is difficult.
- Promote social distancing measures in all areas including canteen areas, toilets, entrances, and work areas.
- Stagger start, finish and break times to reduce congestion
- Create a one-way flow in busy or congested areas of the workplace
- For teams working in shifts, keep the teams consistent to avoid cross-contamination between teams or shifts if an outbreak occurs.
- Communicate all adjustments and new processes to employees, if a workplace has been closed during lockdown, employers could look to do mini inductions to employees on their return so that they are aware of what is expected of them.
- Revise and update HR policies such as sickness absence management, dependency leave, home/flexible working.
- Keep a record of, and carry out risk assessments for any employee who may be at higher risk of contracting the virus or developing more severe symptoms, such as those over the age of 60 and those with cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions, immune deficiencies, diabetes or pregnant employees.
- Communicate frequently the importance for employees to notify their employer asap if they are experiencing symptoms or have had a positive test and to self-isolate and stay away from the workplace.
- Increase the frequency and extent of cleaning that takes place within the workplace. The focus needs to be on communal areas eg break areas and frequently touched areas such as door handles, light switches, telephones, printers/photocopiers, and handrails. The antibacterial gel should be provided at all these locations for employees to use.
- Ensure all employees contact details and their emergency contact details are up to date on their HR files.
- Tell employees there is a possibility their workplace could close if an outbreak occurs.
- Consider creating an employee resource link on the company intranet page to help employees to be up to date with any decisions or changes to practices the company has made, this could also be used to put risk assessments on for employees to view.
- Consider making template communications for employees in case an outbreak occurs in the workplace this will save time getting communications out to all employees.
COVID-19 Outbreak Management Action Plan
Even if your coronavirus action policy is well-designed to prepare for the return to the office, an outbreak could still occur. This is why you should be prepared with an HR plan of action in case one or more of your employees test positive for the virus.
If an outbreak occurs companies should take the following steps to managing a COVID outbreak:
- Get in touch with your nearest Public Health England Centre as soon as possible as they will provide guidance on what to do.
- Find out from the employee who they have been in contact with at the workplace and communicate this to all ASAP.
- Consider allowing all employees who have been in contact with the employee with the virus or suspected virus to self-quarantine for 14 days, this could include allowing them to work from home if possible.
- Allow other employees to work from home where possible.
- Look at whether the workplace or parts of the workplace, needs to be closed for a period of time.
- Arrange for a cleaning company to expertly clean and disinfect the workplace.
- Set up regular virtual meetings to keep any remote workers engaged and involved in what is happening.
- Decide on communication methods for all employees if they are off work, this could be emails, letters, text messages etc.
- Consult with recognised trade unions or employee representatives and keep them up to date with what is happening.
- Consider the government furlough scheme, unpaid leave, or salary reduction as alternatives to terminations or employment.
If you would like further guidance on the above or support creating an action plan, conducting risk assessments or updating any HR health and safety policies, please contact Clover HR on 0121 516 0299 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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