The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many employees think about work. Where possible, companies have embraced the facilitation of working from home – to the delight of some employees and the distress of others.
While it is the choice of the employer to ask their workforce to come back to the office or to stick to a flexible working policy, they also must make sure that the workplace is safe for the employees. We have gathered the current advice and some helpful tips on how you can make sure that your employees are safe when they return to the office.
Please note that, as government advice on this topic can change, this content may not be up to date and we advise you to cross-reference with the government’s guidelines.
Measures at the workplace
There are certain measures that an employer should implement to ensure their employees feel safe when returning to work. The most important areas are hygiene and sanitisation, social distancing, frequent monitoring for symptoms, and testing the workforce for antibodies.
Stepping-up on hygiene and sanitisation
Consider which facilities need to be open at the workplace – perhaps the kitchen and communal areas possess a higher risk and are more difficult to keep clean and disinfect. Would it be safer to restrict access to them?
Facilitate access to plenty of hand sanitizer throughout the workplace. It should be easily accessible for your employees and placed in strategic areas with a lot of footfall, such as the kitchen area, entrance, and bathrooms.
We now know that the virus can linger on surfaces 48 hours or even longer, depending on the material. It is therefore essential that all surfaces frequently used by several different people, get cleaned and sanitised more often.
Pay special attention to areas like the kitchen, vending machines, dispensers, and the bathroom. It may also be necessary to clean door handles and desk areas more often if many people are working within the same area. We recommend having everything cleaned and disinfected after every use. This can either be carried out by cleaning staff or, if you ask them to cooperate, by the employees themselves. Ensure that all cleaning staff and any collaborating employees are fully informed to carry out the cleaning in the right way. Having extra hand sanitising stations in areas where people will be touching more communal surfaces is encouraged.
Maintaining distance at the workplace
Social distancing is one of the best ways to avoid the spread of the virus; this also applies to the workplace. Wherever possible, you should implement this, for example, by assigning tasks to one person instead of letting several people use the same material and work in the same area. Where social distancing is not possible it may be necessary to install Perspex screens between workers.
In offices that will accommodate it, install a one-way-system. This means that employees enter the premises, move around and exit whilst following a marked path in one direction. You can use tape to lay out your path on the walls or floor. By using this kind of system, you can avoid as much contact as possible.
With the social distance measures in place, many offices will have to space out seating. In an open space office, this usually means that one desk in between two employees stays empty. For many companies, this will bring up a new problem: there is not enough space for everyone at the same time.
You can, for example, manage this by dividing your workforce into two or three separate groups or bubbles. The groups will take turns coming into the office: group A will come in for the first week and work in a distanced manner, while groups B and C work from home. The following week group B will come in and so on.
By introducing this system, you can also minimise the contact between employees and reduce the chance of spreading the virus across groups. If one person in group A shows symptoms, the entire group stays at home until testing has confirmed that they are safe to go back to work.
If your employees need to use the lift to access the office, ensure that you introduce a queueing system, as fewer people will be permitted to use the lift at the same time, which may result in longer waiting times.
Enable your employees to work flexible hours so that they can use public transport at quieter times. The chances of contracting the virus on public transport at busy times when it is not possible to maintain social distance are much higher than at quiet times.
In certain professions, you need to provide personal protection equipment (PPE) to your employees, especially if they are in contact with the public or moving around and will not be able to maintain a safe distance at all times.
Providing your employees with regular rapid antibody tests
More and more businesses are providing COVID-19 tests that employees can carry out themselves at home if they fear they might have contracted the virus. MEDsan UK provides rapid COVID-19 antibody testing kits for businesses. These tests can easily be carried out at home or in the workplace and indicate with an accuracy of 98% whether someone has had a COVID-19 infection in the past.
Your employees must stay at home and self-quarantine if they show any symptoms of COVID-19. Read more about the symptoms of COVID-19 here.