The government has published guidance on how businesses can safely re-open after announcing that a further easing of the coronavirus lockdown will happen from 4 July.
Yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that social distancing measures would be relaxed in England from the start of next month, allowing venues including pubs, restaurants, cinemas and hairdressers to re-open.
The 2 metre social distancing rule has been relaxed to “one-metre plus”. While the government still advises people to aim for a 2-metre distance, they can be in closer proximity to one another but should take steps to reduce the risk of transmission, for example through wearing face masks.
Health and safety
The 2 metre rule will remain in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The sector-by-sector guidance for businesses in “the visitor economy” includes advice for businesses on how they can arrange seating and stagger customers to avoid raising the risk of catching the virus.
It urges businesses to consult with employees on keeping them safe: “Full involvement of your workers creates a culture where relationships between employers and workers are based on collaboration, trust and joint problem solving,” the guidance advises.
Where social distancing guidelines cannot be followed for a certain task, employers are encouraged to think about whether that task is necessary for the business to operate. If so, they should “take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff”.
Mitigating actions include increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning, disinfecting high footfall areas or common touchpoints, and using screens to separate people where possible. Managers could also encourage people to work back-to-back or side-to-side, rather than facing each other.
Employers should do all they can to “change the way work is organised” so there are distinct groups and the number of people a worker is in contact with is reduced.
“Fixed teams or partnering” is recommended, so that each person only works with a few others.
Businesses must take steps to ensure that only staff who are essential are on the premises, the government says. Back of house workers at entertainment venues, for example, should still work from home. Clinically vulnerable workers, if they cannot work from home, should be offered the option of the safest available on-site roles.
To reduce crowding in and out of the workplace, employers should stagger arrival and departure times, and provide additional facilities such as bike racks so people can avoid using public transport to get to work.
Other steps to reduce congestion could be having more entry points into the workplace where possible, and using markings to create a one-way flow. Touch-based security devices such as keypads should be avoided.
They should also reduce maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser near lift locations and encouraging the use of stairs. Where employees use desks, workstations should be configured so there is sufficient distance between workers, and hot-desking should be avoided.
Employees should remove any waste and belongings from their work area at the end of their shift, and businesses should maintain good ventilation where possible by opening windows and doors where possible.
Managers will need to set “clear use and cleaning guidance for showers and toilets to ensure they are cleaned very frequently and social distancing is achieved as much as possible”. They should also provide more waste disposal facilities and collect waste more frequently.
Shopworkers will need to put systems in place to reduce the likelihood of transmission from touching products, for example by keeping returns separate from merchandise on display.
Where employees need to use a vehicle, for example for deliveries, shared vehicles should be cleaned between shifts or on handover. Measures should also be in place to minimise person-to-person contact during deliveries, or if two employees work together – ensuring the same two workers are on the same shifts.
Employers must also be mindful of how changes to shift patterns and working arrangements are communicated – using whiteboards and signage to explain changes and reduce the need for face-to-face communications.
Finally, businesses should try to engage with unions and worker representative groups on any changes to working practices, and make sure that in applying the guidance, they are mindful of the needs of different groups of workers – for example ensuring reasonable adjustments are still in place for disabled workers.
The announcements of the easing of lockdown has been met by caution by health leaders, however. A letter to the British Medical Journal published today signed by the presidents of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, Nursing, Physicians, and GPs warns that there is a “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus.