Further steps to protect your workforce from the COVID-19 virus

As the UK may potentially enter into the ‘second wave’ of the Coronavirus pandemic, many business owners have been contacting us to gain advice on how best to keep their staff safe as we head towards the winter season.

Businesses will be required to take stringent steps to safeguard against the risk of infection and transmission, and be proactive in identifying potential risks, and mitigating them before infection rates increase. Business owners have a responsibility to remain vigilant to the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 across their workforce, and take decisive action should the virus be suspected or detected. The government suggests that you should ensure the safety of the workplace by:

  • Carrying out a risk assessment in line with the HSE guidance
  • Consulting with your workers or trade unions
  • Sharing the results of the risk assessment with your workforce and on your website.

 

SMI has produced a guide to conducting a workplace risk assessment, which you can access here.

How business owners can reduce risk and maximise staff safety

To support our clients, we have developed this comprehensive guidance to prepare UK business owners for both current and future incidences of Covid-19. The following outlines the steps firms should be taking, to maximise the health and safety of their staff and customers. It is not intended to be used by staff working in the healthcare setting, who have distinct guidelines for sanitizing the work environment.

Adjusting to the ‘new normal’

By now, most businesses which have opened post-lockdown are aware of the requirement to implement measures to enable them to operate safely. For example, retail outlets have implemented plastic screens to separate staff from customers, and many organisations have reorganised their way of working to accommodate clear walkways to encourage staff to remain apart when navigating the workplace.

However, there are other ways you can protect your staff through enhanced hygiene solutions, and maintaining the positive steps which may already be in place, to maximise safe working environments.

Implement social distancing where possible

Businesses reopening following the pandemic lockdown have been required to undertake significant steps to reduce the risk of further transmission for their employees and/or customers. The two-metre distancing measure is still the recommended distance which people need to adhere to, to reduce the risk of infection by air-borne droplets.

Where this is not possible due to the logistics of your business, it is recommended that all staff wear face coverings to prevent droplets being shared between individuals. You can access our guide to the correct deployment of respiratory protection, here.

Implementing single walkways in communal areas, seating staff back to back, and promoting sound hygiene in the workplace all serve to further protect teams in the working environment. Where possible, maximise the amount of ventilation in enclosed workspaces, through opening windows and doors, or running a ventilation system.

Where it is practical, business owners are advised to invest in plastic screening for those members of staff who are required to work in close proximity to each other. The screening is effective in preventing transmission through airborne droplets, should an individual be infected with the virus, but have no discernible symptoms.

For organisations where it can be facilitated, outdoor working is considered to be significantly safer than indoor environments, as it is thought that shared indoor space may increase the risk of contracting the disease.

Hygiene solutions

According to what we know of the Covid-19 virus so far, it is thought to linger in viable form on materials for the following timescales:

Stainless steel

Between two and three days

Copper

For up to four hours

Plastic

Between two and three days

Cardboard

For up to four hours

This means that surface contamination is a definite risk in the workplace. To effectively safeguard against surface transmission, workplaces need to conduct a full risk assessment, to identify and then mitigate the possibility of transmission as far as possible.

 

The UK Government has made some clear recommendations for workplaces. This includes enabling good hand hygiene by making hand sanitizer available on entry to working environments, and in washrooms where safe and practical, and ensuring suitable handwashing facilities including running water and liquid soap are available.

They recommend setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets, with increased frequency of cleaning in line with usage. Use normal cleaning products in conjunction with sanitizer gel, liquid and spray, paying attention to frequently hand touched surfaces, and consider use of disposable cloths or paper roll to clean all hard surfaces.

 

Any PPE such as disposable masks, aprons and gloves used during the cleaning process or by staff need to be considered as hazardous waste, and disposed of appropriately. Cleaning staff are reminded to not touch their mask or face while undertaking workplace sanitization, and replace single use masks after each wear.

Public Health England states: “Reducing clutter and removing difficult to clean items can make cleaning easier. Increase the frequency of cleaning, using standard cleaning products such as detergents and bleach, paying attention to all surfaces but especially ones that are touched frequently, such as door handles, light switches, work surfaces, remote controls and electronic devices.

“As a minimum, frequently touched surfaces should be wiped down twice a day, and one of these should be at the at the beginning or the end of the working day. Cleaning should be more frequent depending on the number of people using the space, whether they are entering and exiting the setting and access to handwashing and hand-sanitising facilities. Cleaning of frequently touched surfaces is particularly important in bathrooms and communal kitchens”.

Solutions for your staff

All staff within your business need to have access to a reliable and convenient way of sanitizing their hands regularly. This can be via dedicated Hand Sanitizer stations, or individual dispensers such as our elbow-operated Sanitizer Dispenser (product code OJH-13642).

The Elbow Sanitizer Dispenser is an ideal solution for use by professionals looking to maximise hand sanitization without risking cross-contamination through hand operation. The 1L capacity Dispenser provides a practical volume for busy environments where there is a high volume of demand. The Dispenser can be mounted easily to any wall, and affords a durable, robust solution for sanitization.

For work environments where staff are working on desks or reception areas, it’s a good idea to invest in a countertop Hand Sanitizer Dispenser such as our SureSan product OJH-13644. This compact dispenser features its own stand, to enable it to be placed immediately on any flat surface for swift assembly. It can also be moved as required, for example for operatives working across multiple departments, as it is fully portable.

The government recommends that where it’s not possible for people to be 2m apart, you should do everything practical to manage the transmission risk by:

  • Considering whether an activity needs to continue for the business to operate
  • Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
  • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
  • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible
  • Staggering arrival and departure times
  • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’.

Encouraging your team to practice sound hand hygiene

We have all learned of the critical importance of hand washing in the ongoing battle against Covid-19 transmission. Using soap and washing hands for a minimum of twenty seconds serves to create a barrier on the skin, which makes it more challenging for the virus to reproduce.

Provide your team with ample facilities for hand washing, through automatic dispensers in washroom facilities and kitchen spaces.

When undertaken in conjunction with regular and prolonged hand washing, hand sanitization using an approved product such as our Hand Sanitizer Gel or Liquid is the ideal way of maximising workplace health and hygiene.

Hand Sanitizer serves to degrade the structure of the Coronavirus cells, breaking them down and penetrating the nucleus to render the virus unable to replicate. Hand sanitizer gel or liquid needs to be in contact with the hands for approximately twelve seconds to fully penetrate the virus cells, and prevent them from reproducing.

Provide your team with clear signage prompting them to wash their hands thoroughly after using washroom facilities, and to sanitize their hands at any point whereby they move from one area of the workplace to another, or touch regularly-handled communal fixtures including light switches, shared computer terminals, plant and machinery.

Wiping commonly touched areas with surface sanitizer, and fixtures with antibacterial wipes such as our SureSan Alcohol Surface Wipes (product code OJH-13646) will afford greater degrees of safeguarding from surface transmission.

 

Hygiene on the go – equipping your team with the Personal protective Equipment and kit to stay safe

For businesses where staff are required to travel and/or visit multiple indoor spaces within their day to day role, business owners need to consider how they may stay safe in the field. Equip peripatetic members of your team with Personal Hygiene Kits, containing gloves, masks, antibacterial wipes, surface sanitizer sprays and hand sanitizer to enable them to stay safe even where social distancing may not be a feasible option.

Encourage staff members to establish a regular schedule of frequent hand washing and sanitization even while out in the field, and equip them with portable solutions for maintaining an effective schedule for wiping down surfaces, deploying appropriate PPE, and ongoing hand sanitization.

Advocate remote working

Many businesses successfully operated despite the pandemic lockdown period, by optimising their team’s capacity for remote working. Staff who work from home are often much more productive than those based on-site, as they have no commuting. This is also the safest way of safeguarding your team from the potential of being infected by Covid-19, by essentially enabling them to self-isolate while still working. While not all businesses can create a virtual team environment, it is recommended that those which can, ought to optimise home working opportunities.

 

Advice for workplace cleaning staff

All cleaning staff responsible for upholding hygiene in the workplace need to be provided with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment to keep them safe in the role. If staff have uniforms, these need to be washed on a warm cycle after each wear. Teams need to be kitted out with disposable gloves and face masks, single use plastic aprons and eye protection, where appropriate.

In business areas where the likelihood of contamination with the virus is higher, for example in dormitories or hotels, staff need to be equipped with eye, hand and face protection before commencing deep cleaning activities.

When cleaning bathroom facilities, it’s important to clean frequently touched surfaces regularly. Ensure suitable hand washing facilities are available including running water, liquid soap and paper towels or hand driers. Where cloth towels are used, these should be for individual use and laundered in accordance with washing instructions. Waste does not need to be segregated unless an individual in the setting shows symptoms of or tests positive for Covid-19. Dispose of routine waste as normal, placing any used cloths or wipes in ‘black bag’ waste bins. You do not need to put them in an extra bag or store them for a time before throwing them away.

 

New to home working? Here’s what you need to know

With the current guidance relating to social distancing, many businesses are reopening post-lockdown with a completely different approach to on-site working. Firms in all sectors have been required to adopt stringent measures to ensure that their operations may continue, even as the Coronavirus pandemic is still a very real threat to staff health and safety.

While organisations such as shops, bars and other service industries cannot advocate complete remote working for obvious reasons, many other sectors have either taken steps towards virtual working, or significantly limited the number of employees present on site at any given time. As this is a new approach for many businesses, we’ve created a clear guide on how you can make the transition to a virtual working environment, without compromising the safety of your team through off-site operations.

Responsibility of business owners to safeguard remote workers

The pandemic situation has led to a number of Healthcare bodies issuing clear advice detailing the responsibility which employers have to ensure that their team remain safe and well, even while working away from the business premises. The guidance states that business owners need to take all reasonable steps available to help people work from home in safety. This includes discussing the arrangements which each member of the team may have in their home environment, and ensuring that they have the correct equipment to continue to perform in the role. This includes anything relating to systems and platforms access, and the required hardware to provide remote access.

Business owners are required to maintain communication with those of the team working off-site, and including them in team meetings and other activity. Finally, the requirements state that employers need to safeguard physical and mental wellbeing, as remote workers adjust to the new arrangements.

What firms need to consider before adopting virtual working arrangements

The Health & Safety Executive states that there are four key considerations which all business owners are required to cover:

  • How will you keep in touch with remote workers?
  • What work activity will they be doing (and for how long)?
  • Can it be done safely?
  • Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?

 

Conducting remote Health & Safety workplace assessments will ensure that your team have the right environment to safely do their job, that they have adequate equipment in place such as a desk, suitable chair, and web connections. It is your responsibility to provide these facilities, before requesting that your team work in a virtual environment.

 

Keeping lone workers safe and well

For business owners who employ lone workers who undertake field-based tasks, there are additional considerations to undertake in relation to their health and safety while undertaking their role. Individuals working in isolation need to be equipped with the correct Personal Protective Equipment to stay safe, for example through our Personal Hygiene Kits, which provide gloves, masks, surface and hand sanitizer, and antibacterial wipes. It’s important to bear in mind that staff working alone may be subject to additional risk of mental health challenges such as loneliness, so business owners need to maintain regular contact and check on welfare regularly. Provide lone workers with as much access as possible to team platforms and communications, to ensure that they have the opportunity to voice their concerns or raise queries as they work – and, if necessary, request immediate assistance in the event of adverse circumstances.

 

Safeguarding staff working with display screen equipment

All employers are required to conduct workstation assessments, to ensure that staff working with display screen equipment have the correct set-up to undertake their roles safely. Employees can fill out their own assessment, to advise their manager if there are any additional needs outside of their existing arrangements. Remind staff to take regular breaks, walk about and stretch, and give their eyes an opportunity to rest at regular intervals to prevent fatigue.

Staying vigilant to signs of poor mental health

New ways of working, and increased isolation, can have unwanted effects on many individuals who may be used to the routine and camaraderie of a team environment. Line Managers and Supervisors need to stay vigilant when communicating with remote workers, and encourage people to speak out if they are finding the new working arrangements challenging.

Foster an open and amicable relationship with remote staff, including them in all work-related conversations, meetings and communications, and try to maintain multiple platforms such as Skype, e-mail, shared networks and regular calls to support effective management. Encourage your team to speak out, and buddy up, if their circumstances are causing challenges. Finally, encourage your team to reach out for external support from their GP or other mental healthcare providers, to ensure that they stay safe and well in these unprecedented times.

 

If you would like SMI to provide you and your team with advice, training or consultancy on staying safe during the Coronavirus pandemic, please do not hesitate to contact us, and allow us to guide you to safe working practices in your business.