With the aim of kickstarting the economy, lockdown restrictions have been eased and the world of business is trying to awake from a period of enforced hibernation. Some businesses have adjusted to working from home (WFH) better than others and may prefer to keep it like that for the time being, but for others, returning to work after lockdown is a necessity and the sooner that happens the better.
When you return to work will depend on what sector you operate in and where you are based but there is one common denominator applicable to everybody; the fact that your place of work will look very different from when you left it a few months ago.
Preparing the workplace before opening
Employers have always been responsible for ensuring that their employees have a safe place to work, but with the Covid-19 pandemic this has taken on even greater significance. As with most aspects of running a business, preparation is key and the majority of the work should be undertaken before staff return to work.
A major project like this begins with a risk assessment to identify the risks that transmission of Covid-19 poses and then install measures to alleviate those risks. After all, employers have a legal responsibility to protect employees. An important point to note is that the main barrier for returning to work after lockdown is probably not a physical one, so employees should be consulted and their views considered with any concerns addressed well in advance of the return to work date.
Employers must make sure that facilities, equipment and premises are cleaned thoroughly prior to opening and personal protective equipment (PPE) is ready to be provided where necessary. Social distancing measures need to be implemented to reduce the risk of transmission and enable staff to return to work safely. Remember that no employee should be obliged to return to work if they feel unsafe.
Two metre social distancing measures should be in place throughout the premises and not just at workstations. These include entrances and exits, in corridors, canteens, break out areas and lavatories. Floor markings should be put down highlighting the two metre distancing rule throughout the building. Where the two metre rule can’t be met between workstations then dividers should be installed.
As most workplaces will have been empty for months equipment will not have been used so air conditioning units need to be checked to ensure they are working properly and do not need servicing.
Measures to take when open
Only encourage returning to work after lockdown for positions that are essential and where possible keep some staff WFH. Where there is a shortage of space you can stagger the shifts of workers to reduce the number of people sharing the same workplace at the same time. Break times should also be spaced apart to avoid congregating.
Hand sanitisers should be available at entry and exit points as well as throughout the office. In smaller office spaces place desks so that employees sit with their backs to each other instead of face to face. Hold meetings outdoor when possible or in well ventilated rooms and encourage staff to open doors and windows to increase the circulation of fresh air through the building.
Social Distancing in the workplace
Another essential and effective measure to take to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 is cleaning and it goes without saying that this is an ongoing process. Studies are inconclusive on how long the virus can survive on surfaces so increasing the frequency is important here. Attention should be paid to door handles, work surfaces and shared equipment such as printers and vending machines. Signage should be in place to encourage employees to clean surfaces and equipment after use and paper towels should be used instead of hand dryers.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as helmets, gloves, eye protection, visors and masks should not be used instead of social distancing measures but if you have identified the need for certain employees to wear PPE then you must provide it free of charge.
Business owners also need to protect contractors, visitors and customers, basically, anyone who visits their workplace. Ideally, the number of non-essential visitors to a business should be minimised. Those that must attend need to be limited to set times, recorded and adhere to social distancing measures.
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