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Preparing your workplace for a return to work

How are you preparing your workplace for a return to work?

What is my Duty of Care responsibility as an employer?

Employers who shut down or reduced their operations at the start of the lockdown are now focusing on how to reopen their workplaces. Employers have a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their employees. Health and safety considerations are obviously key in reopening businesses premises, both from a legal perspective and, more importantly, to ensure both workforce and customers have confidence that the site or workplace can be reopened safely (1). As a result, all employers are under a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that their employees’ can work in safety in the workplace.

Individual employees in contrast will be facing very different challenges about returning to the workplace, depending upon their own circumstances. Be this, due to individual health risk profiles, caring responsibilities, home environment or issues around commuting to work. Therefore, there needs to be a coming to terms of the various options and considerations that both employers and employees have at this stage of the easing and unlocking of the economy.

 

Continuing to work from home

Employees because of the on-going presence of COVID-19 are still required to work from home wherever possible and can continue to do so if employers are happy with that arrangement. The recent decision by Royal Bank of Scotland to allow 50,000 staff to continue to work from home for the rest of 2020, shows that employers are adopting radical changes in their work practices (2). However not all employers can allow employees to work from home for such extended periods and that means that more places of work will be looking to prepare for employees returning to their workplaces.

 

Workplace safety

The health and safety legislation means that employers have a duty of care to provide a safe place for employees to work. This involves employers taking steps to assess and reduce the risk to its workforce of contracting COVID-19 both at outset and then on an on-going basis.

The Government has issued Guidance (Working safely during coronavirus) to help support businesses as they start to re-open their places of work, to ensure that workplaces are as safe as possible (3). This takes the form of several guides containing non-statutory guidance for employers to consider when complying with existing health and safety obligations. The guides cover a range of different types of workplace environments and businesses that operate more than one type of workplace will need to take account of Working Safely from more than one guide.

The Guidance focuses on five key steps that should be considered by employers:

  • Employers should take all reasonable steps to help employees work from home, if possible. Those workplaces that can be open and whose employees cannot work from home should prepare for employees to return to work.
  • Employers should carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions. All businesses with over 50 employees are expected to publish the results of their risk assessments on their website.
  • Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain social distancing between people wherever possible, by staggering start times, creating one-way walkthroughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts.
  • Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff, for example, by putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.
  • Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points and ensure workplaces are cleaned more frequently, paying attention to disinfect objects and surfaces touched regularly. More information on this step can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings

 

Although the guidance is focused on safety in the workplace, it also touches on travel to and from work and suggests steps such as providing additional parking or facilities such as bike racks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible, and limiting the number of passengers in corporate vehicles, e.g. work minibuses, possibly leaving seats empty.  There are also suggested measures to manage visitors (including clients, customers, and contractors), inbound and outbound goods transportation, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings.

 

Boosting mental wellbeing

During lockdown, many businesses and individuals have worked hard to protect and promote positive mental wellbeing, and this will need to be continued as businesses return to work. Employers have an obligation to take measures to protect the mental health of their employees as well as their physical health and there’s never been a more relevant time to highlight the need for good quality mental health support.

There is a wide range of services that can help employers address the wellbeing services that employees need now and into the future. Employees need to have the reassurance that their employers care about them.

Benefit providers like Busy Bees Benefits can provide services such an Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), which gives access to information and counselling services, or we can help employees with their financial wellbeing through education support and access to accessible loans and salary advances. Other benefits include discount vouchers for grocery and on-line shopping, virtual GP services, or cycle to work to enable safe commuting. There are also mental health support services available.

 

Bounce back stronger

The range of steps and support covered above are aimed at helping employers make the return to work easier and smoother and support the return to full productivity. The wellbeing tools are aimed to help employers support and facilitate a workplace culture that keeps their employees healthy and emotionally strong, at a time when the world of world is in such turmoil. The wellbeing benefits that these services provide are more important now than ever, as the medical view is that the UK will be living with coronavirus for many years to come. Even when a vaccine is available, it is unlikely to eliminate the virus, so businesses will need to have their risk protocols and procedures in place and tested along with a full range of employee support services.

 

Notes:

  1. Although a vast number of different statutes govern safety issues, health, and safety at work in the UK isn’t governed just by legislation. Under ‘common law’, all employers have a duty of care which is an obligation to protect their employees. A term is implied into all employment contracts requiring employers to take care of their employees’ health and safety.
  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-53484767
  3. https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

 

Wojciech Dochan

Managing Director, Busy Bees Benefits

Provider of the SmartHive Platform

Smart Hive is an integrated, cost effective employee benefits platform that provides your employees with access to all their health and wellbeing benefits in one place. Talk to a member of our team today or book your very own demonstration.