Safe return to work will involve more than being ‘Covid-19 Secure’, suggests IOSH

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Companies must address all return-to-work health risks as business gradually open up following the lockdown, not just those directly related to Covid-19, the Institution of Safety and Health (IOSH) has insisted.

It said the “new normal” will likely result in changes in workplace values, attitudes, behaviours and culture, all of which could result in health and wellbeing concerns for workers.

It urged firms to consider accessibility requirements when revamping their workplaces to adhere to social distancing and Covid-19 Secure guidance. For example, lift occupancy is likely to be reduced or restricted, but wheelchair users and those with disabilities will still need to be able to access the workplace safely.

“Health and safety must come first. For organisations, it’s about a systematic plan-do-check-act approach and forward-thinking employers have already been planning for safely restarting work, once allowed to cautiously do so,” said IOSH head of policy and regulatory engagement, Richard Jones.

“Employers need a planned, risk-controlled approach, based on strong leadership, worker involvement and sound health and safety advice. Cross-functional teams should assess the risks for Covid-19 security and general health and safety and ensure action before workers return.

“This includes full consideration around how any changes implemented could impact on the mental health and wellbeing of staff.”

IOSH reiterated that opening workplaces “cannot happen overnight”, as a raft of policies, procedures and working conditions needed to be adjusted.

Separately, guidance from Public Health England has highlighted the need for businesses to flush out the water supply in their buildings before they reopen, in order to prevent spreading the potentially deadly bacteria Legionella. This was especially the case for businesses that use a lot of water in their work, such as dental practices, hairdressers, gyms and hotels, PHE said, but was also relevant to firms operating within office buildings as a way to stop bacterial growth.

Health and safety software firm Protecting, meanwhile, has estimated that only 40% of staff will be able to return to the workplace if social distancing guidelines are adhered to, as many organisations will not have the space to allow staff to keep 2 metres apart.

It said most workplaces would need to introduce one-way systems; markings on the floor; cubicles and partitions; the use of masks and gloves; more handwashing stations and increased cleaning of equipment and regular deep cleans.

“Until we are certain that the infection rate has dropped, most likely due to a vaccine, it’s really unlikely that we can return to the way things were pre-Covid 19,” said Protecting founder Mark Hall.

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