Covid-19: Government issues back to work guidance

The Government has published practical guidance for employers to help them get their businesses back up and running and their workplaces operating safely.

The guidance covers eight workplace settings which are allowed to be open, from outdoor environments and construction sites to factories and takeaways. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19

Here are the five key points, which the government says should be implemented as soon as it is practical:

  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.

  1. 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 the government expects all businesses with more than 50 employees to do so.

  1. Maintain two metres social distancing, wherever possible

Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain two 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.

  1. Where people cannot be two 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.

  1. 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.

The government has created a downloadable notice, which it says employers should display in their workplaces to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace, that they have followed the guidance.

The guidance has been developed with input from firms, unions and industry bodies and in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to develop best practice on the safest ways of working across the economy.

It applies to businesses that are currently open. It also includes guidance for shops which may be in a position to begin a phased reopening at the earliest from June 1.

The workplace settings the guidance covers are: 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 services; shops and branches and vehicles.

Guidance for other sectors that are not currently open will be developed and published ahead of those establishments opening to give those businesses time to plan.

The government says it will also shortly set up taskforces to work with these sectors to develop safe ways for them to open at the earliest point at which it is safe to do so, as well as pilot re-openings to test businesses’ ability to adopt the guidelines.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “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, HSE chief executive, said: “We have worked with BEIS to ensure businesses have access to the information they need to put in place measures to help them work safely. This will assist employers in carrying out risk assessments and putting practical measures in place.

“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.”