As positive cases of COVID-19 once again begin rising in the UK, the country has entered a national lockdown for the second time. Those people who can work from home are being urged to do so whilst those who need to be in the office are advised to continue to do so. For those people who need to work in the office, this can be a worrying time. However, it is essential to note that their employers have a legal obligation to assess any risks associated with office working protocol and ensure that the appropriate measures have been put in place to manage any workplace-related risks. Their top priority should be ensuring that their office is as COVID-safe as possible and that their employees feel as safe as possible in the current climate.
What are the official guidelines?
To help ensure that employers have the right information to hand when it comes to creating a workplace that is COVID-19 secure, the government has put together a series of guides. There are fourteen of these in total, and each one considers the different measures that will need to be considered in a range of different work environments. These guides have not only been designed to assist employers but also employees and even the self-employed.
Businesses need to follow these guidelines to keep their employees safe. It is also a legal requirement, and the Prime Minister has advised employers that there may be spot inspections carried out by HSE to ensure enough measures are in place.
What makes an office COVID secure?
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the coronavirus, every office may find themselves facing a potential risk of transmission. To make this risk as small as possible, an employer should be looking at how they can make things as safe as possible – for employees and visitors alike. Actions an employer could take might mean placing desks further apart, improving ventilation within the building and even staggering the working day to ensure that office occupancy is lower than usual. However, they will have to consider whether they can take such actions whilst still allowing everyone to work the hours that they need to.
A risk assessment will help an employer to identify, assess and where possible, avoid or reduce any of the potential transmission risks that exist.
What measures should I put in place?
The guidelines state that where possible people should work 2 meters apart, however, when this is not possible this distance may be reduced to 1 meter with appropriate extra measures in place. This might mean making physical changes to your workplace by moving desks around to create more space; screens or other barriers may be needed to create a level of additional protection between people to make this possible.
In addition to these measures, the cleaning regime for the office should be increased. Regular cleaning of communal areas and things like door handles will help to reduce the possibility of the virus spreading. Frequent hand washing should be encouraged, so plenty of soap and disposable hand towels should be provided, and these should be kept topped up. Antibacterial hand gel is also helpful in an office environment where it can be used if trips to wash hands regularly are less practical. Creating physical barriers between one part of an office and another, for example, with the use of PVC strip curtains from Strip Curtains Direct, which have antimicrobial properties, can prove very useful in helping to reduce any potential spread.
While some of these measures may cause employers to have to layout funds to protect their staff, reducing office transmission could not only ensure they have fewer absences from work through COVID-related illnesses, but also that they can continue operating throughout the pandemic.