Coronavirus: What should my employer do to keep me safe?

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The government has issued new guidance on how different workplaces should be made safe for staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

This follows the prime minister’s announcement that those who could not work from home should be “actively encouraged to go to work” in England.

Several key points must be followed, such as maintaining a 2m (6ft) distance wherever possible, cleaning more frequently and carrying out a risk assessment.

But many employees are still worried about what will change in the workplace.

So what are the new guidelines for different sectors?

1. Working outdoors

Prime Minister Boris Johnson highlighted construction and manufacturing as the sorts of industries where employees would now be explicitly encouraged to return to work.

On Monday, new government guidance said that bosses of employees who mainly work outdoors, such as in the construction or agricultural industries, needed to ensure that staff could work – even if social distancing was not possible.

It advised that additional personal protective equipment (PPE) which was over and above the normal helmets and other building site protection – such as face masks – was not required.

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Other guidelines include:

  • Staggering arrival times and providing more entry points to construction sites
  • Giving people single tasks for the day so the fewest hands touch the equipment
  • Separating sites into different “zones” to keep groups of workers apart to contain any potential spread of coronavirus
  • Limiting the number of visitors on-site
  • Sanitising all hand tools, controls, machinery and equipment after use

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “This is a significant step forward in terms of the information available for businesses, who will now need to digest the detail.

“The guidance signals big changes for the way that many businesses operate, and some firms will now need time to plan and speak to their employees so that they can return to work safely.”

2. Manufacturing and food processing

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Factory and warehouse workers’ bosses need to make sure surfaces which are regularly touched are cleaned frequently and that there is plenty of hand sanitiser.

Shifts should have the same personnel and, as with construction, shared tools should be dropped off somewhere rather than handed over directly.

Deliveries should be larger and less frequent to minimise contact with outsiders.

The government also said “factory, plant and warehouse workers should not use PPE as a precaution against coronavirus, and not wear any more PPE than usual”.

3. Office workers

For office workers, employers should devise one-way systems to minimise contact amongst their staff.

Staggering arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding should also be considered, with additional facilities such as bike racks provided to encourage the use of public transport if possible.

Meetings should also be held remotely – and only involve participants who are absolutely necessary. Meeting outside could be considered if that’s not possible, although the government still says those who can work from home should continue to do so.

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Screens, barriers and floor tape should be used to keep people apart and help show 2m distances.

And the use of hot desks should be avoided. In call centres or training facilities where that’s not an option, workstations should be sanitised between shifts.

Staggered breaks and packed lunches will also help prevent gatherings of people.

But Michael Izza, the chief executive of the accountancy industry body the ICAEW said: “This is not a return to business-as-usual, and companies will note the government’s advice that employees should continue to work from home if possible.

He added: “Implementing the guidance will mean costs and changes which businesses will not find easy. In light of that, I expect many of them will think twice about reopening their offices.”

Much of the same guidance applies to those working in research facilities or labs.

But it is also recommended that arrangements should be made for how to clean expensive equipment that can’t be washed down. Additionally, in the event of an emergency, such as a chemical spill or fire, people do not need to stay 2m apart.

4. Shops

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The new guidance applies to businesses that are currently open, such as chemists and shops selling food, as well as others which are still closed.

Mr Johnson said in his address to the nation on Sunday that if the circumstances were right, other types of shops might be able to open next month – such as fashion retailers.

The guidance suggests all of these businesses should use the following measures:

  • Define the number of customers that can follow 2m social distancing within the store
  • Take into account total floor space as well as “pinch points”, such as doorways or corridors
  • Limit the number of customers in-store at any one time
  • Remove services that you can’t do safely, or that would require close contact with customers
  • Consider whether changing rooms are essential, and ensure that they are cleaned after every use if they are kept open
  • Use floor tape or paint to clearly mark 2m distances
  • Ensure contactless payments can be made if possible

5. Working in a vehicle

Lorry drivers and couriers have been classified as key workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Where social distancing guidelines can’t be followed while they’re at work, bosses have been told to consider whether that activity is critical to the business. One example includes heavy deliveries needing more than one member of staff.

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Bosses of those working in vehicles should also:

  • Use screens or barriers to separate people from each other if working in the same vehicle if they can
  • Reduce the number of people each person has contact with by using “fixed teams”, so each person works with only a few others
  • Ensure regular cleaning of vehicles, in particular between different users
  • Minimise contact when customers are paying or signing for a package
  • Prepare for goods to be dropped off to an agreed area, for example through click-and-collect, to avoid transmission
  • Keep sufficient supplies of hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes in cars or lorries so workers can clean their hands after each delivery or drop-off

6. Working in other people’s homes

The government also had particular advice for people who work in or visit other people’s homes, such as plumbers, electricians, cleaners and carers.

“We understand how important it is that you can work safely and support your employees’ health and wellbeing,” the advice says.

Workers should wash their hands and surfaces more and cut any activities where being 2m or closer to a colleague are needed.

If that isn’t possible, it suggests the several tactics:

  • Keeping the activity time as short as possible
  • Using screens or barriers to separate people
  • Working back-to-back or side-to-side, rather than face-to-face

If none of this is possible, businesses should assess whether the work can safely go ahead, and employees should raise their concerns if they think otherwise.

No work should be done in homes where inhabitants are isolating, unless it’s to address a safety problem, and where there are vulnerable people, face-to-face contact should be avoided.

Making sure customers know to keep 2m away is also a must, as well as cleaning surfaces which will be regularly touched.

7. Pubs and restaurants

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On 4 July at the earliest, some businesses in England including pubs and restaurants, may be allowed to open as long as they can meet social distancing measures.

This is part of a tentative plan to allow the hospitality industry to reopen in the third phase of the lockdown easing.

For now, all food and drinks outlets must continue to offer exclusively takeaway or delivery options, with all seating and bar areas remaining closed.

The new guidelines note that Covid-19 is a respiratory illness and is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging. For takeaway and delivery services, it recommends:

  • Installing cleanable panels to separate workstations in larger kitchens, as it may not be possible to move equipment like sinks and hobs apart
  • Minimising the amount of contact at food “handover” points between staff and delivery drivers
  • Installing plastic screens between front-of-house workers and customers
  • Introducing zones where drivers can collect packaged food items
  • Encouraging customers to use contactless payments and order online, via apps or over the phone to reduce queues

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