Returning to work during the Covid-19 pandemic
Covid-19 has changed the way we live and work in the UK – and its impact is likely to continue long after restrictions are eased. When lockdown measures were announced on 23rd March, the impact on business was profound. Today, the route towards a new normal brings fresh complexities.
For small business owners who employ staff, the new landscape can feel daunting – especially if your work relies on face-to-face contact. In April and May, more than 5,000 people contacted the health and safety regulator to highlight concerns related to Covid-19.
Fortunately, there are ways for your workplace to stay on the right side of new safety rules and help employees to feel their well-being is taken care of. As businesses across the nation take their first steps towards a return to work, decision makers should consider two key factors:
- Safety of employees
- Safety of customers
To assist with the thought process of returning to work, here are a set of questions that businesses can ask themselves to help navigate these unprecedented times.
Returning to work: four key stages
There are four parts to the thought process of returning to work safely. As the situation evolves, you’ll most likely need to revisit each stage:
1. Thinking: The initial review to ascertain whether it is permitted to re-open and what it might look like.
2. Preparing: Assessing what needs to be done to protect employees and customers.
3. Executing: Ensuring that the actions required for safety are practical and that they are followed.
4. Monitoring: Making sure that staying open is still permitted and that controls remain relevant.
This list is not exhaustive – since the Covid-19 pandemic is a new threat, different processes may be advised as the situation develops. By conducting all the relevant reviews, you’ll have the best chance of maintaining the trust of staff, customers and wider society.
1. Thinking about returning to work
Is a return to work permitted?
Check the latest government guidelines (external link) to be sure a return to work is feasible. From construction to education and hairdressing, each industry faces its own set of guidelines due to the differing levels of risk.
Is there an alternative way?
Do you need to reopen your business premises in order to trade? If it is possible to work from home, this remains the preferred method.
Do my business activities require specific actions?
The government has issued specific guidance for certain activities (external link), including office work (external link) and work away (external link). If your work involves entering other people’s homes, then additional measures may be necessary.
2. Preparing to return to work
Do I need to complete specific risk assessments?
Businesses which employ staff should complete risk assessments as part of their Covid-19 return to work process. Risk assessments (external link) have always been viewed as an important way to protect employees and others from harm since the process helps to identify risks and establish the best controls. Do not forget to consider the heightened risks faced by any vulnerable staff or customers.
How will I communicate plans?
Communicate your Covid-19 return to work plans in a careful and comprehensive way. Factor this in from day one – having the best plan and controls in place won’t matter if employees do not understand what they are doing. The HSE have issued a guide on talking to employees (external link) about Covid-19.
3. Executing the return to work
Is there anything I should consider about face masks?
If your business risk assessment identifies a need for face masks, be sure they fit properly (external link).
How do I factor in social distancing?
To assist with social distancing (external link), where possible, businesses which must reopen their offices could consider shift patterns and temporary boundaries.
What should I do about cleanliness and hygiene?
Cleaning products, such as soap and hand sanitisers, should be available with regular cleaning and disinfection (external link) conducted.
4. Monitoring the work situation
How often should I revisit my risk assessments?
The necessary frequency of Covid-19 risk assessments will vary depending on your business type and the evolving government guidelines. You should be particularly mindful if one of your employees has shown any symptoms during the preceding 14 days.
Has my message been absorbed by employees?
Check in with employees regularly to be sure they understand what they should be doing to prevent the risks posed by Covid-19.
Is there anything else I should be aware of?
You should also be aware of the updated RIDDOR requirements (external link), which set out how instances of Covid-19 should be reported in the workplace.
Preparing to navigate this new era will be no simple feat. As the world continues to suffer at the hands of the pandemic, organisations which adopt new processes in order to minimise health and safety risks may fare better than others.
The process of thinking, preparing, executing and monitoring is by no means linear. Remaining agile enough to react to local developments – and return to stage one when required – will help to give your business the best chance of staying compliant and profitable well into the future.
For more information on Covid-19 and how to minimise the effects on your business, take a look at our Covid-19 FAQs.
This article is for guidance purposes only. These steps are not comprehensive and are not related to our policy cover.