Are you preparing to re-open your office? Every workspace is individual and employers have a duty to make the working environment safe for employees before they step foot in the office.
There’s a lot to think about but starting with a detailed risk assessment is important and will give you a structure to ensure you have considered every eventuality to keep staff as safe as possible. What are the risks? What controls are required? At the end of the blog, I detail a number of useful links/official guidance that you can refer to when planning to re-open your office.
Here’s our general tips to mitigating the risks through careful planning and assessment:
1. What are the risks?
There are a number of risks to your business if you don’t get this right, such as spreading Covid-19 in your workplace, which could lead to serious health issues. On top of that you have the associated reputational risk to your business and the disruption to your services.
Who’s at risk?
Remember it’s not just your staff who could be at risk but also tenants, cleaners, security staff, contractors, delivery drivers, anyone visiting your premises and vulnerable groups (elderly, pregnant workers and those with existing underlying health conditions.
Ensure any staff or other people visiting your site inform you if they develop coronavirus symptoms – you could keep a track of all visitors via a daily check-in book. If they do, contact the Public Health Authority to discuss the case, so they can identify people who have been in contact with them, and consult on any actions or precautions that should be taken.
What controls can you bring in to manage risk?
There are a number of areas that will need to be controlled when returning to the workplace including handwashing, social distancing, cleaning, PPE, visitors, mental health, staff travel, deliveries and contractors. Let’s look at each one individually:
Ensure there are hand washing facilities with soap, water and paper towels in place and that supplies are well stocked.
Have posters throughout the premises reminding people of the Public Health advice and encourage stringent hand washing.
Remind staff on a regular basis to wash their hands for 20 seconds with water and soap and the importance of proper drying with disposable towels.
Encourage staff to protect the skin by applying moisturising cream regularly.
Provide gel sanitisers in any area where washing facilities not readily available such as reception areas.
3. Social Distancing
Reduce the number of people in any work area to comply with the 2-metre (6.5 foot) gap recommended by the Public Health England.
Take steps to review work schedules including start and finish times, shift patterns, working from home etc., to reduce the number of workers on site at any one time.
Redesign processes to ensure social distancing can be achieved.
Use conference calls instead of face to face meetings.
Remind staff on a daily basis of the importance of social distancing both in the workplace and outside of it. Uses posters to reinforce messaging.
Implement a one-way system for entrances, exits, stairwells and corridors with clear signage in place. Share instructions with staff of direction of travel and entry/exit points. Keep some doors open to allow a clear line of sight at junctions.
Review office layouts where necessary to enable social distancing. Label desks in certain areas to advise which desks can be occupied at the same time. Add signage to explain the system.
Incorporate a one person in, one person out system in communal kitchens and toilets.
Ensure the estate manager carries out regular checks to make sure that the necessary procedures are being followed.
Carry out frequent cleaning of work areas and equipment between uses, using your usual cleaning products.
Ensure frequent cleaning of high touch objects/surfaces, such as door handles and keyboards is carried out and provide adequate disposal arrangements.
If you are cleaning after a known or suspected case of COVID-19 then you must refer to the specific guidance (see below).
Provide additional PPE to cleaning and premises staff. (See PPE)
Clean and sanitise offices paying attention to surfaces, high contact areas and communal areas every evening Mon –Fri.
Deep clean offices and communal areas at weekends.
Clear workspaces and remove waste and belongings from the work area at the end of a shift.
Limit or restrict use of high-touch items and equipment, for example, printers or whiteboards.
Minimise use of shared printers where possible. Where not, sanitising equipment to be available.
Carry out checks by property manager to ensure that the necessary procedures are being followed.
See advice on cleaning workplaces on GOV.UK
5. PPE/Face coverings
Follow latest guidance – at the moment guidance states that you need only wear face coverings on public transport and in hospitals.
There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms.
A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.
Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace.
Where social distancing is not possible, and in higher traffic areas such as reception, you could recommend that face coverings are worn.
Keep a small stock of face masks for staff in higher risk areas.
Provide masks if requested - they are optional for all staff.
Refer to blog on How to make your own face covering.
Visitors to your site should be discouraged.
Communicate - it is essential that the plans and procedures are communicated to all members of staff and tenants to ensure that any specific questions are addressed and can be dealt with promptly.
Display posters outlining steps that your company has taken.
Share information via internal communications with all staff.
Deliveries to site must be kept to a minimum where possible, and carried out on a no contact basis. Cleaning products should be made available to all staff tasked with handling deliveries.
Revise pick-up and drop-off collection points, procedures, signage and markings. For example, non-contact deliveries where the nature of the product allows for use of electronic pre-booking.
Consider methods to reduce frequency of deliveries, for example by ordering larger quantities less often.
Enable drivers to access welfare facilities when required, consistent with other guidance.
Make contractors working on your premises aware of the actions and procedures in place, and also able to demonstrate that they are operating in a safe manner within the guidelines relevant to their operations.
Only essential contractors should be permitted access to the site (e.g. cleaners, waste management providers)
Ensure you have a ‘new permit to work’ in place stating that precautions have been taken to prevent infection spread.
Contractors working on site should provide method statements and risk assessments outlining their COVID 19 precautions.
All contractors should sign a new permit to work which outlines your company measures.
9. Mental Health
Consider promoting mental health and wellbeing awareness to staff during the Coronavirus outbreak and offer whatever support you can to help.
Communicate ongoing advice via internal communications and information is available on internal systems.
Ensure Mental Health First Aiders are on hand to offer support if required.
10. Staff Travel
Minimise non-essential travel – consider remote options first.
Staff should not share vehicles.
Staff should not visit other business premises.
Encourage remote working methods to minimise face to face contact.
If travel is essential, face masks should be worn. This would need to be approved by a line manager.
Our experience at Business West Workspaces
Business West has a number of workspaces around the region. We have carefully carried out our own risk assessment following government guidance on each of our workspaces and many of our tenants have already started returning to our premises in a controlled and safe manner.
Disclaimer - in this blog, we are simply providing tips on how to re-open an office during Covid-19 – this is not official guidance. Please refer to the UK government advice for up-to-date, official guidance.
How some of our tenants felt about returning to the office during coronavirus
“The support from the estates staff at Leigh Court has been exemplary. We have been guided through the return work protocols in a supportive manner and despite the difficulties associated with a historic building we feel very safe about our workplace” Russell Smith, Hunter Selection
“Overall we feel the safety measures that have been put into place at Leigh Court are very satisfactory. There are plenty of Hand Sanitiser stations around the building.” Caron Payne, Ziegler UK Limited (Chamber member).
“We’d like to say what an excellent job you’ve done to create such a safe working environment for us all in such difficult times. The communication/updates from Leigh Court has been second to none and the one-way system around the building has made sure all the tenants can all adhere to social distancing where required. Thanks so much to Leigh Court and all the team!” Chris Padfield, Chamber member at Phoenix Cargo Services (Chamber member).
Click to find out more about our business premises and workspaces.
It is an in-depth task to carry out a detailed risk assessment before allowing staff to return to your workplace. But if you carry out thorough procedures, and communicate this with employees, this will help to boost confidence and allow staff to safely return to work during coronavirus. Please refer to the official guidance in the next section.
Sources and Links
Guidance is regularly being updated so please check for the most up-to-date advice.
The UK government has developed a new tool and guidance for businesses to check what their workplace needs to do to keep people safe. Businesses should use this guidance to assist with a risk assessment and make sensible adjustments to the site and workforce. If businesses do not carry out a risk assessment, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or relevant local council can issue an enforcement notice. This guidance is only for businesses that are allowed to reopen in England. You can also read the full pdf document here.
Further information on carrying out a risk assessment and a risk assessment template can her found here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/risk/steps-needed-to-manage-.... You can also use this Health and Safety Executive poster to show that you have complied with the government’s guidances (Link to attached pdf)
You can find example risk assessments for a number of variety of business types including offices, shops, food services, factories and warehouses here.
‘A brief guide to controlling risks in the workplace’ is also a useful source of information.
Read useful advice and Information here from Public Health England.
Business West Chambers of Commerce has teamed up with Amazon to offer tours of its Avonmouth fulfilment centre and give local businesses an insight into how they’ve introduced safety guidelines throughout the pandemic. Find out what your business can learn from Amazon as they reopen after lockdown.