A safe workplace begins when employees follow their safety responsibility and carry out their work in line with established H&S protocols. As businesses across the UK and the rest of the world start returning to work or making plans to do so since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made a list of simple steps businesses should try to follow of as they make their way into the ‘new normal’ at work.
Important but Easy Steps to Improve Workplace Safety Post Covid-19
Create a plan to identify any hazards using work risk assessments
Post COVID-19 there is no such thing as being too safe, and we are all starting to realise this will be a way of life. You will have seen often on the news scientist sing about the R-number which defines what the virus spread rate is. We as businesses need to play our part and ensure we lay concrete health and safety plans that will not compromise these efforts of limiting the spread of coronavirus. For example:
- The distance between desks or workstations, and providing a screen divider in-between
- Ensuring staff clean and sanitise hands regularly
- Providing hand towels to dry hands with instead of air dryers which are highly unhygienic
- Use of hygiene stations / sanitiser stations
- Shift patterns to limit the number of people on site
- Entry & exit points / people flow
- Transport to work
- Providing rapid flow COVID tests on entry, and/or temperature checks
- Clear signage indicating your COVID safety rules
- Provide face mask dispensers to encourage use of face masks
Planning is everything! These are just but a few of the hazards that we need to be addressed and reduce the risks associated with them before employees are requested to come back to work. As an employer, if you fail to provide a safe working arrangement you risk prosecution and your business may even be forced to close.
We recommend reading through the government guidance articles, health and safety at work Act 1974, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulation 1999, Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulation 1992.
Inspect your workplace often
If you have been to a gym toilet or public facility toilet such as in motorway services you will notice that on the doorway or near it there is an inspection sheet that indicates when the facility was last cleaned. Post Covid-19 this might be implemented in businesses too and monitored regularly. This would ensure that a. someone is held accountable for regular cleaning and inspection and b. that the spread of the virus would be minimized. This virus is controlled by ensuring hygiene is placed at the highest priority level possible. Staff may be required to clean their workstations during their breaks or when changing shifts i.e. computers, desks, chairs, and the private facilities need spruce at least twice a day. It is a good idea to provide individual packs of sanitiser wipes (that are approved to kill covid) to each staff member, and a hygiene station near to the workstations. Employers might have to introduce ‘health and safety champions’ to be responsible for encouraging good hygiene and regularly checking all equipment is well maintained and safe to use.
Employee & stakeholders training
Effective awareness starts with a comprehensive training program. All employees should have induction and refresher courses to ensure they are aware of the risk associated with their work environment and that includes COVID-19 even though it has been all over the news in the past months. As an employer, you are required to provide written instructions to your employee so that they can check for themselves if they are unsure of the task and the new normal. There are online courses available which is a cost effective and safe way of delivering training and can be referred to in the future if an employee needs a refresher on workplace safety. By offering the correct training you are protecting the entire workforce.
Labels, Signs and Equipment
Social distancing has become an important protocol but however many people are told to stay at least 2 metres apart we still regularly see people crowding close to each other even when they have space to follow the 2 metres guidance. Using labels and signs is an inexpensive way to quickly communicate this important information and alert employees of hazards and also instruct them to take action such as maintaining the 2 metres social distance gap and as such help them refrain from inbuilt behaviours that can cause risk to themselves and other employees.
Keep an open dialogue with staff
The effectiveness and benefits of a good health and safety awareness programme should not be underestimated and therefore raising awareness through open dialogue should be encouraged. Involving the employees is a good start as they are the most important stakeholders in your business. They will be 100% up to support suggestions they have been actively involved to draw and you will be surprised at the level of commitment they will display to follow this guidance if they associate it with their work culture. Communication is essential and can never be encouraged enough.
Maintain records & seek specialist advice
It may be necessary to breach the 2 metres guideline and if this is happening more often you need to consider mitigating this risks by using providing your staff with PPE such as face masks, as well as shortening the risk duration. In areas that warrant difficult decisions, you may want specialist advice from a legal practitioner like a health and safety lawyer that could cover your business with legal privileges in case you need to display sensitive documentation to HSE, local authorities and future claimants.
Review and make this a key part of your business to keep a healthy workforce
It never hurts to be over prepared. Regular meetings to review Covid-19 health and safety rules should now be a necessity, to discuss ways to prevent this virus from ever entering your workplace. These regular review meetings on workplace safety will help everyone know their roles and what they need to do.