The government is set to publish guidance on how workplaces could safely re-open at some point after the coronavirus lockdown lifts.
According to reports, the guidance is being prepared for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) by Ernst & Young, and will likely include advice for specific workplaces including call centres and retail stores.
Return to work post-lockdown
It is expected to be published next week to give organisations time to make sure their workplaces are correctly set up for safe operation when they are allowed to re-open.
According to the Financial Times, business secretary Alok Sharma is planning to publish around 10 papers that will set out how the economy is expected to get back to normal.
Advice for workplaces is expected to include restricting or removing access to communal areas such as canteens; preventing employees from working face-to-face; and increasing the use of hand sanitiser.
The Health and Safety Executive revealed to Personnel Today that it had received thousands of reports from concerned individuals about how workplaces were operating during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A spokesperson said: “Between 9 March and 26 April 2020, we received more than 4,142 workplace concerns relating to Covid-19 in some form. We are listening to these concerns and working through these with a range of actions. Further updates on these outcomes will be made available as soon as possible.”
The HSE said it received 1,298 reports about workplace concerns in the week commencing 30 March, but this number has fallen steadily over recent weeks. Last week, commencing 20 April, it received 546 reports.
Paul Verrico, a partner in the environment and health a safety team at law firm Eversheds Sutherland, said reopening workplaces would not be simple and thorough cleaning would be needed, as there is a risk of bacterial build up in premises that have been unused for weeks.
“The re-start strategy is not as simple as unlocking the front door,” he said. “The outbreak has left many buildings with minimal or even no occupancy; this can give rise to a threat of Legionella bacteria building up in stagnant water within buildings, which can have a significant health risk upon reoccupation.
“Businesses should consider water system cleaning and disinfection, and controlled flushing to mitigate the risk of prolonged stagnation of water. A comprehensive review will assess risks that any surveys or inspections of premises are completed safely, and where necessary, provide PPE as the bacteria when disturbed can become airborne. Sampling of the system is recommended to assist in determining the extent of any issues within the water system to ensure the correct remedial measures are implemented.”
Boris Johnson is expected to reveal how the UK expects to lift lockdown measures at this evening’s press conference, following a Cobra meeting today (30 April). The lockdown is likely to remain in place until at least 7 May.
Yesterday, cabinet office minister Michael Gove said the government might consider lifting restrictions in “island communities” first, to see what effect they might have before rolling them out across the UK.
“It is preferable if we [end the lockdown] as one United Kingdom,” he told the public administration and constitutional affairs committee. “But there is a specific scientific justification for saying that island communities can be areas where you could pilot some measures, contact tracing in particular, in order to combine that with relaxing measures at a progressively greater rate. That can help you judge what is right for the country overall.”
BEIS and Ernst & Young have been approached for comment.