‘Practical guidelines’ have been published to help employers make workplaces as safe as possible, including the expectation that all employers with 50 or more staff should publish Covid-19 risk assessments.
The documents have been developed in consultation with around 250 businesses, trade unions, the devolved administrations, Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and follow Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s address to the nation last night setting out steps to beat the virus and “restart the economy”.
Unless people feel safe, employees won’t return, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, harming livelihoods and public services. This guidance will help. It gives firms a clearer picture of how to reopen safely and gradually“ – Carolyn Fairburn, CBI
The guidance covers eight workplace settings permitted to be open, including construction sites, factories and takeaways, and includes downloadable notices for employers to display to demonstrate they are following official guidance.
Business secretary Alok Sharma said: “This guidance provides a framework to get the UK back to work in a way that is safe for everyone. These are practical steps to enable employers to identify risks that Covid-19 creates and to take pragmatic measures to mitigate them.
“And as we are able to reopen new sectors of the economy, we will continue our collaborative approach working with a wide range of stakeholders, to provide guidance for additional workplaces.”
There are five main principles:
1. Work from home, if possible
Employers should take all reasonable steps to enable people to work from home. But for those employees who cannot and whose workplace has not been told to close, the government says its message is clear: staff “should go to work”. Employers should communicate with employees about when their workplace will open.
2. Consult with workers on Covid-19 risk assessments
The guidance operates within current health and safety laws and equality legislation. Employers need to carry out Covid-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers and 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 over 50 employees to do so.
3. Maintain two metres’ social distancing ‘where possible’
Employers should redesign workspaces to maintain two-metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one-way systems, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts.
4. Manage transmission risk
Where people cannot be two metres apart, employers should erect barriers in shared spaces, create shift patterns or fixed teams to minimise interpersonal contact, or ensure workers face away from one another.
5. Reinforcing cleaning processes
Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles, keyboards and lift buttons. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.
A downloadable notice is included in the guidance, which employers should display in their workplaces to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace, that they have followed this guidance.
Sarah Albon, HSE chief executive, said: “We have worked with [the government] to ensure businesses have access to the information they need to put in place measures to help them work safely. This will assist employers in carrying out risk assessments and putting practical measures in place.
“At the heart of the return to work is controlling the risk posed by the virus. Ensuring safe working practices are in place will help deliver a safe return to work and support businesses across the country.”
Craig Beaumont, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses commented: “It will be a long journey but this guidance will provide the basis for small employers to have the positive conversations needed with their staff. This is the first step to getting the economy back on its feet.
Carolyn Fairburn, director-general of the CBI explained: “Unless people feel safe, employees won’t return, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, harming livelihoods and public services. This guidance will help. It gives firms a clearer picture of how to reopen safely and gradually.
“The guidance builds on the good proactive plans many firms have developed during lockdown. Excellent employee engagement, fast workplace innovation and transparency have helped many companies support livelihoods. It’s right to build on this.”
She added that the UK faces “months of change and challenge” and that these guidelines would need to evolve based on insight from the ground.
Jonathan Geldart, director-general of the Institute of Directors said: “It won’t provide every answer, no guidance can, but directors can use it to inform their risk assessments for operating in this pandemic.”
The guidance applies to businesses currently permitted to open. It also includes guidance for shops which the government said may be in a position to begin a phased reopening from 1 June.
Guidance for other sectors that are currently closed will be developed and published ahead of those establishments opening to give those businesses time to plan. The government will set up taskforces to work with these sectors to develop safe ways for them to open at the earliest point it is safe to do so, as well as pilot reopenings to test businesses’ ability to adopt the guidelines.
The government has made available an extra £14 million for HSE, equivalent to a 10% increase in its budget, for extra call centre employees, inspectors and equipment if needed.
Specific guidance for the eight workplace settings are as follows:
- Construction and other outdoor work
- Factories, plants and warehouses
- Homes – Guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to home environments.
- Labs and research facilities
- Offices and contact centres
- Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
- Shops and branches
- Vehicles – Guidance for people who work in or from vehicles, including couriers, mobile workers, lorry drivers, on-site transit and work vehicles, field forces and similar.
Article originally published on 11 May 2020, updated on 12 May 2020.