The government has updated guidance on working safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
With lots of news reports and online speculation, it can be hard to know what these updates mean for businesses. Here are answers to some of the questions you've asked.
Has the two-metre distance changed to one-metre?
No. The prime minister announced two-metre distancing should be maintained where possible and one-metre only applies when two-metres is truly impossible, for example in communal stairwells, narrow corridors, or where appropriate measures (such as Perspex screens, redesign of workstations and as a final measure, PPE) are in place to allow for reduced distancing.
Can my employees return to the workplace?
It depends. Employers have a responsibility to ensure the workplace is Covid-19 Secure before asking employees to return.
Business secretary Alok Sharma said he expected people to continue to use "common sense" and follow government guidelines. But he reiterated there is a legal duty for businesses to keep their employees safe and the Health and Safety Executive could take action if not.
Key changes to Working Safely guidance include:
- Changes to the rules on working from home
- When to wear face coverings
- Disposing of face coverings and PPE
- Work-related travel
- Shielded workers able to return to a COVID-19 Secure workplace
- Visitor records to be kept for 21 days
The Government has now produced easily digested documents with information on each sector.
Changes to the rules on working from home
Businesses and workplaces should make every reasonable effort to ensure their employees can work safely.
This may be working from home, or within the workplace if Covid-19 Secure guidelines are followed closely.
When in the workplace, everyone should make every reasonable effort to comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the government.
Employers should ensure workplaces are safe whilst also enabling working from home.
In order to keep the virus under control, it is important that people work safely.
Working from home remains one way to do this. However, the risk of transmission can be substantially reduced if Covid-19 secure guidelines are followed closely.
Employers should consult with their employees to determine who can come into the workplace safely taking account of a person’s use of public transport, childcare responsibilities, protected characteristics, and other individual circumstances.
Extra consideration should be given to those people at higher risk. When it is decided that workers should come into their place of work then this will need to be reflected in the Covid-19 risk assessment and actions taken to manage the risks of transmission in line with this guidance. It is vital employers engage with workers to ensure they feel safe returning to work, and they should avoid forcing anyone into an unsafe workplace.
Ventilation into the building should be optimised to ensure a fresh air supply is provided to all areas of the facility and increased wherever possible. Ventilation systems should provide an adequate supply of fresh air.
Steps that will usually be needed:
- Increasing the existing ventilation rate by adjusting the fan speed.
- Operating the ventilation system when there are people in the building.
- Monitoring and managing filters in accordance to manufacturer instructions.
- Keeping doors and windows open if possible.
- Using ceiling fans or desk fans to improve air circulation, provided there is good ventilation.
When to wear face coverings
Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. This means telling workers:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer before putting a face covering on, and before and after removing it.
- When wearing a face covering, avoid touching your face or face covering, as you could contaminate them with germs from your hands.
- Change your face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it.
- Continue to wash your hands regularly.
- Change and wash your face covering daily.
- If the material is washable, wash in line with the manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in your usual waste.
- Practice social distancing wherever possible.
Avoid unnecessary work travel and keep people safe when they do need to travel between locations. Steps that will usually be needed include:
- Walking or cycling where possible. When not possible, you can use public transport or drive. You must wear a face covering when using public transport.
- Cleaning shared vehicles between shifts or on handover.
- Minimising the number of people outside your household, or support bubble, travelling together in any one vehicle, using fixed travel partners, increasing ventilation when possible and avoiding sitting face-to-face.
- Where workers are required to stay away from their home, centrally logging the stay and making sure any overnight accommodation meets social distancing guidelines.
If your business has visitors on the premises, please ensure that you record their details and keep these records for 21 days.
For a broader look at the government's advice, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19
Peter Jones runs the HR Dept in Swindon and Wiltshire www.hrdept.co.uk/offices/south-west/swindon