In terms of self-isolation for those who believe that they have the disease, employers should provide employees and other interested parties with clear advice on staying away from the workplace if they have any symptoms. Visitors to site should continue to be minimised where possible. However, essential site visitors (i.e. maintenance contractors) should be asked to confirm that they consider themselves to be virus free. Where an individual becomes unwell on site and is displaying Covid-19 symptoms, employers should have a clear plan in place to get them out of the building as efficiently as possible (using a route that exposes them to as few other people as possible), which details how potentially infected areas will be cleaned and how anyone who may have been exposed to the infected person will be notified (and requested to begin self-isolating at home for fourteen days).

Social distancing
Employers must carefully plan how social distancing is going to be maintained. In particular, reviewing the workplace layout and how people circulate within it is key. Key questions to consider include:

  • how can employees and others safely enter buildings
  • are there ‘pinch points’ within buildings and how are these managed
  • how to protect reception/security staff, i.e. are screens required
  • how will visitors be managed, i.e. are they required to sign a touch screen
  • how will people keep a safe distance in toilet/washing/showering facilities (remembering that delivery drivers and others working on site will also require access)
  • how do people access drinking facilities
  • where will people eat
  • how will people exercise/get fresh air.

Possible control measures may include: the use of physical barriers; introducing one way systems; floor markings; and clear signage.
Another approach is to reduce the number of people on site at any one time by introducing a staggered/split working day, where possible.

Good hygiene practices
In reopening their premises employers must therefore consider how employees and other interested parties on site can follow good hygiene practices, and whether any further measures are required. For a small office, this may be as straightforward as ensuring that there is an adequate supply of soap in washrooms. However, for busy sites with multiple visitors, consideration should be given to the installation of additional hand cleaning stations. There may also be specific tasks that require further measures, for example those who handle external post and
Employers must also review how cleaning on site is managed, both in terms of providing good hygiene standards (especially in commonly used areas) and how cleaning staff are protected.

Management of fire and first aid
In preparing for the reoccupation of their sites, employers must review their fire risk assessment and the fire management arrangements contained within it. Not only should this review consider any changes to fire safety systems and equipment (as outlined previously), but also issues such as adequate provision of fire wardens/marshals and the suitability of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPS) – especially if working hours are elongated and/or previous role holders are no longer available to continue.

In line with the fire risk assessment and management arrangements, employers must review their first aid ‘assessment of need’ to ensure that it is still sufficient. Based on this, they may then need to train more first aiders to ensure that there is adequate coverage. Employers must also review the levels of first aid equipment that they have on site and ensure that these are still adequate. In particular, consideration should be given to the purchase of additional resuscitation face shields, disposable gloves and aprons.

In addition to any specific refresher training required to operate plant and equipment (as outlined previously), employers must also review whether any general refresher or updated induction training or briefing is required for those on site. This may be particularly relevant where social distancing measures have been introduced, for example a change in First Aider/Fire Warden coverage.

Managing contractors
Employers already have a range of formalised and implied legal duties in respect of the health and safety management of contractors. In moving towards reoccupation of sites, employers must review their existing contractor controls to ensure that they adequately cover any new risks introduced by the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, issues such as ensuring social distancing; provision of welfare facilities and lone working arrangements are robust and that any works are properly controlled including by the use of permits to work.

Managing wellbeing
Employers should consider how to support the mental wellbeing of their employees who are returning after a significant period of either home working or furlough. Where work-related issues present themselves, the HSE’s published stress Management Standards should be followed. Employers may also want to review how they can support their employees on broader issues, such as bereavement support and general anxiety about the ongoing situation (for example by signing up for a formal Employee Assistance Programme providing confidential telephone advice and

Other issues to consider
There are subtle but important regional differences in the way that the lockdown measures are being applied in different parts of the UK. The most significant of these is in Scotland, where a wider range of sites have been shut, including non-essential construction, however this is not a legal requirement and only relates to guidance issued by the Scottish Government as opposed to requirements. As such, employers must be remember that these regional differences will also influence the timing of the reoccupation of their premises.

If you are an employer faced with challenging HR or Health & Safety issues then contact SME Advisor on 0330 333 4997 for advice.

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