Employers should redesign workspaces to maintain two-metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits or changing seating layouts in break rooms.
The changes form part of the ‘Covid-19 secure’ guidelines published by the government yesterday (11 May).
The guidelines cover eight workplace settings including construction, offices and contact centres, factories, plants and warehouses and shops.
The guidance follows the prime minister‘s announcement to restart the economy.
The government has consulted about 250 stakeholders on the safest best practice to prepare across the economy, providing people with the confidence they need to return to work. It has been developed with input from firms, unions, industry bodies and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The government has also made available up to an extra £14 million for the HSE, equivalent to an increase of 10 per cent of their budget, for extra call centre employees, inspectors and equipment if needed.
The guidance sets out practical steps focused on five key points, which all businesses should implement. These are:
1. Work from home if you can. All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. But for those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, the message is that you should go to work. Staff should speak to their employer about when their workplace will open.
2. Carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions. This guidance operates within current health and safety employment and equalities legislation and employers will need to carry out Covid-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions to establish what guidelines to put in place. If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and the government expects all businesses with more than 50 employees to do so.
3. Maintain two metres social distancing, wherever possible. Employers should redesign workspaces to maintain two-metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.
4. Where people cannot be two metres apart, manage transmission risk.
Employers should put barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.
5. Reinforcing cleaning processes. Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.
A downloadable notice is included in the documents, which employers are asked to display in their workplaces to show employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace that they have followed this guidance.
Sarah Albon, chief executive of the HSE, said the guidance “will assist employers in carrying out risk assessments and putting practical measures in place”.
Craig Beaumont, director of external affairs and advocacy at the Federation of Small Businesses, said the guidance was “practical, workable and proportionate for small businesses” and was “the first step to getting the economy back on its feet”.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, said that “unless people feel safe, employees won’t return, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, harming livelihoods and public services”.
Fairburn said the guidance “gives firms a clearer picture of how to reopen safely and gradually”, but added that guidelines would “need to continue to evolve based on insight from the ground”.
Jonathan Geldart, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said the guidance “is an important first step” but that it “won’t provide every answer – no guidance can – but directors can use it to inform their risk assessments for operating in this pandemic”.