What should your employer be doing to allow safe return to work following lockdown?

A young woman putting on a COVID-19 face mask

With the UK Government and the Scottish Government having set out their plans for a phased relaxation of lockdown, your employer ought to be thinking about how they can return you and your colleagues to the workplace in a safe way, as appropriate.

It is necessary for your employer to conduct a Covid-19 Risk Assessment. This should be regularly reviewed and updated before you and your fellow workers return, and on an ongoing basis. The paramount consideration is the health and safety of you and your co-workers. Of course, this means that your employer should be taking full account of up-to-date Government advice.

A Risk Assessment is not a “box-ticking” exercise. It involves someone with a knowledge of your employers’ working practices carefully considering the daily operations of the business and areas where risks may arise and implementing reasonable steps to minimise those risks. Your employer cannot ensure that the spread of coronavirus is avoided. However, the Risk Assessment should make it clear that they have taken steps to consider the risks and minimise them as far as possible.

Much is common sense. Here are very simple steps that your employer ought to be considering to reduce risk and allow social distancing. For example:

  1. Allowing employees to continue to work from home or organising a staggered shift pattern to allow fewer people in the work premises at any one time.
  2. Avoiding “hot desking”, i.e. sharing of desks.
  3. Avoiding the use of communal areas such as kitchens, canteens and toilets, or introducing a policy of “one at a time” for those areas.
  4. Arranging regular cleaning of communal items such as photocopiers, printers etc.
  5. Implementing one-way systems within the office.
  6. Ensuring that all meetings with third parties, including customers and suppliers, are done by phone or video conference, unless a face-to-face meeting is for some reason essential.
  7. Reducing the length of meetings.
  8. Deep-cleaning the premises before re-opening, with regular rigorous cleaning thereafter, and providing anti-viral wipes for staff to use on communal items.
  9. Installing screens at communal areas and between opposite work stations.
  10. Keeping doors propped open to reduce the touching of door handles etc.
  11. Reminding employees to wash their hands always for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap, with proper drying with disposable towels.
  12. Encouraging all internal communications to be by e-mail or phone rather than speaking face-to-face within the premises. and if face-to-face is required, then two metre distance observed.

If you have concerns about travelling to and from work on public transport following lockdown, speak to your employer about other options they could consider.

You and many others may be concerned and anxious about returning to workplaces and will want to know that your employer is regarding your physical and mental health as a priority. Your employer should be communicating with you and regularly reviewing, as necessary, the Risk Assessment which they have put in place. You and your colleagues should be encouraged to ask questions about return to work plans and make suggestions. There may be simple measures that you realise your employer has not considered.

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