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Governments sets out return to work guidelines for businesses

The government has published a number of practical guidelines to help businesses get back up and running and operating as safely as possible to give people the confidence to return to the workplace during the current coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines, available under Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance have been developed for eight workplace settings, which the government says are allowed to be open. These are as follows:

  • Construction and other outdoor work
  • Factories, plants and warehouses
  • Labs and research facilities
  • Offices and contact centres
  • Other people’s homes
  • Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
  • Shops and branches
  • Vehicles

The government consulted approximately 250 stakeholders to develop best practice on the safest ways of working across the economy to provide people with the confidence needed for them to return to work. This included input from firms, unions, industry bodies and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The guidance is centred on five key points which the government says should be implemented as soon as it is practical. These five key points include:

1. Work from home, if you can
All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. But for those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, our message is clear: you should go to work. Staff should speak to their employer about when their workplace will open.

2. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions
This guidance operates within current health and safety employment and equalities legislation and employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what guidelines to put in place. If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and we expect all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.

3. Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible
Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.

4. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk
Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.

5. Reinforcing cleaning processes
Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

A downloadable notice is included in the documents, for employers to display in their workplaces to show employees, customers and other visitors that they have followed the guidance.

Commenting on the new guidelines, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: This guidance provides a framework to get the UK back to work in a way that is safe for everyone.

“These are practical steps to enable employers to identify risks that COVID-19 creates and to take pragmatic measures to mitigate them.

“And as we are able to reopen new sectors of the economy, we will continue our collaborative approach working with a wide range of stakeholders, to provide guidance for additional workplaces.”

Sarah Albon Chief Executive, Health and Safety Executive said: At the heart of the return to work is controlling the risk posed by the virus. Ensuring safe working practices are in place will help deliver a safe return to work and support businesses across the country.”

Craig Beaumont, Director of External Affairs and Advocacy at the Federation of Small Businesses said the guidance is “practical, workable and proportionate for small businesses”.

He added: “It will be a long journey but this guidance will provide the basis for small employers to have the positive conversations needed with their staff. This is the first step to getting the economy back on its feet.”

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General, CBI commented: Safety is at the heart of business thinking. Unless people feel safe, employees won’t return, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, harming livelihoods and public services.

“The guidance builds on the good proactive plans many firms have developed during lockdown. Excellent employee engagement, fast workplace innovation and transparency have helped many companies support livelihoods. It’s right to build on this.

“The UK faces months of change and challenge. These guidelines will need to continue to evolve based on insight from the ground.”

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