The government has produced guidance to help ensure safety during the pandemic covering a range of workplaces. This includes guidance for offices, contact centres, operations rooms and similar workplaces.
Update - The Government guidance was updated on 24 June 2020 to reflect a relaxation of the 2m social distancing guidance in England to 1m plus risk mitigation where 2m is not viable, and to include references to support bubbles where relevant. The updated guidance also stresses the requirement for employers to complete a risk assessment which takes account of COVID-19.
These guides do not replace existing health and safety duties, but they should be considered by employers when assessing risk and implementing control measures. As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety.
Thinking About and Managing Risk
Employers must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment (which should be shared with employees after consultation) and take preventative measures. That means working through steps in the guide in order i.e. increasing hand washing/surface cleaning, making every reasonable effort to work from home where possible and where not possible complying with social distancing (where that is not possible and the activity needs to continue, further actions are listed). Further mitigations include increasing cleaning, reducing activity time, using screens, using fixed teams and avoiding face to face working. If people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then employers will need to assess whether the activity can safely proceed. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe environment.
The recommendations in the rest of the guide are ones employers should consider as they go through this process. They can also consider any sector specific advice e.g. from trade associations.
Who should go to work
The guidance remains that everyone should work from home, unless they cannot work from home. Employers are advised to consider if a worker is needed in the office. The guide also sets other considerations such as planning for minimum numbers and protecting those at higher risk. Those working remotely should be provided with equipment to allow them to do so safely and effectively, and steps should be taken to monitor their health and welfare.
Social distancing at work
The guide sets out detailed actions to maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible, including increased entry points, staggered arrival and departure times, use of markings, one way flows through buildings, and policies for "high traffic" areas such as lifts or corridors. Where the guidelines cannot be followed in full the suggested mitigations include reducing activity time, use of screens, use of fixed teams, and avoiding face to face working. Meetings should be remote where possible. Where visitors require to attend this should be recorded and take place during specified times. Clear guidance on social distancing should be provided to visitors.
Workplaces and stations
These should maintain social distancing and be assigned to individuals where possible. Occupancy levels and markings should be used to support this. Where social distancing is not possible, face to face working should be avoided and screens considered. If the space or work station must be shared cleaning, including cleaning of equipment, should take place between uses.
These too should maintain social distancing. Employers should work collaboratively with any other tenants to achieve a consistent approach in a shared building, consider use of screens in reception areas, re-configure spaces to avoid face to face transactions, encourage workers to bring their own food, stagger break times, and regulate break room and locker room facilities.
Cleaning and sanitising the workplace
The guide considers how to ensure that a site or location that has been closed is clean and ready to restart. It also provides considerations on: how to keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission including by frequent cleaning of work areas and limiting or restricting use of high touch items; how to help everyone keep good hygiene, including through provision of hand sanitisers in multiple locations, enhanced cleaning, more waste facilities and more frequent collection; how to minimise the risk of transmission in changing rooms and showers; and how to reduce transmission through contact with objects that come into the workplace.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings
Where workers are already using PPE to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, they should continue to do so - additional PPE beyond what is usually worn is not beneficial. Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 in most circumstances. Wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one.
Managing your workforce
The guide advises on how to change the way work is organised to create distinct groups and reduce the number of contacts each worker has including the use of shift patterns and working groups and during work related travel. It deals with communications and training including when returning to work and ongoing communications and signage to make sure all are kept up to date with safety measures.
Inbound and outbound goods
The guide considers how to maintain social distancing and avoid surface transmission when goods enter and leave the site.
Where HSE identifies employers who are not complying with guidance to control public health risks, they will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks including enforcement.