Re-opening Workplaces – How Feasible is this in Practice?

The government has drafted an initial guidance on how UK companies may be able to reopen their workplaces and gradually exit lockdown. The draft document includes a range of guidelines for businesses to follow, covering additional health and safety and wellbeing requirements.

Maintaining social distancing where possible

The guidance states workplaces should keep employees socially distanced, two metres apart, from each other wherever possible. It is noted that where this is not possible, other measures should be taken to minimise risk, including additional hygiene procedures, physical screens, and the use of protective equipment.

This is similar to the current guidance in place for workplaces who have remained open during lockdown. Other measures could include curtailing hot desking, keeping staff canteens closed and limiting the number of workers allowed in lifts at any one time.

Extra hygiene and cleaning measures where sufficient physical separation is not possible has already been rolled out at many workplaces leading up to lockdown. It has been noted that this did not stop the virus spreading and it is difficult to see that it would, on its own, do that again. However, it is a sensible measure to use in conjunction with others and is reasonably practical to do for most organisations.

Greater use of PPE

Despite use of protective equipment being cited as an alternative to two-metre distancing where this is not possible, the section in the guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) is currently empty and awaiting “more detail”, which the government promised would follow. The government currently does not state that masks and gloves are necessary for workplaces. However, if required there is obviously a cost implication to employers to provide if required. There is also the question over resources and not fighting for these if everyone is under resourced.

Putting vulnerable workers in the ‘safest possible roles’

The draft guidance says employees considered at heightened risk from Covid-19, such as pregnant women, those over 70 and people with certain underlying health conditions, should be placed in the “safest possible roles” if they can’t work from home.

This suggested there is an obligation on employers not just to put them back into the same role, but, to look, within the organisation for an alternative role, This obviously raises a number of implications if there is to be a change in role and the required consultation necessary .

Employers would need to be mindful of their employees’ rights, both in terms of Health and Safety legislation, and under their employment contracts and the Equality Act. We would recommend that any changes to a worker’s salary, working hours or status because of this measure would need prior consultation and agreement before the changes were enforced.

Reducing pressure on public transport

The plans included a range of measures for workplaces to adopt that would support the safe use of public transport. These include staggering shift times and remote working to avoid rush hour peaks; encouraging employees to walk or cycle to work where possible; and even increasing parking capacity to discourage staff from lift sharing.

Potentially a lot of coordination will be needed, particularly in relation to workers with caring responsibilities. What if the workplace’s staggered shifts and children’s school’s staggered hours are completely incompatible?

Producing a coronavirus risk assessment

According to the draft plans, all employers will need to carry out a coronavirus-specific risk assessment before bringing employees back into the workplace.

These risk assessments need to determine measures based on a hierarchy of risk control in the same manner businesses assess other hazards in the workplace

Monitoring employees wellbeing for those continuing to work from home

While many employees will be brought back into the workplace, those with the ability to do so will still be encouraged to work from home, with employers encouraged to monitor their mental and physical health.

Employee relations will be key in all workplaces as and when lockdown is eased. How managers work with individuals will be especially important.

 

If you require any further advice on this or any other people management matter, please contact Clover HR on 0121 516 0299 or email us at info@cloverhr.co.uk

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