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Keeping Your Distance

As we all rush back to work (or trickle back) following the first COVID-19 lockdown, confinement and job furloughs, one of the key issues facing businesses is employee safety in a virus-laden world. In practice, that means risk assessments, possibly emotional support for various pandemic-related stresses, and on a purely practical and physical level, maintaining social distancing.

But not every workplace lends itself to social distancing. So, how do you help your employees stay 6 feet, 2 metres or 3 fridges apart? What’s the advice for employers and business owners?

Review the workplace

First, look at what you have, what you’re dealing with. An office full of desks? An open plan space? A shop floor? Ask yourself:

  • Where do employees come into contact with each other?
  • Where are the communal spaces where people would normally come into contact, or touch something that a colleague has touched? (e.g. a staff kitchen or dining area with shared utensils)
  • What about staff bathrooms?
  • What about doors? Can they be left open to avoid using the handle?
  • How many people would normally use the lift, if there is one? Is the lift used by people outside of the business (over whom you therefore have limited control, if any) such as customers or other businesses in the same building?
  • If you have meeting rooms, how many people can fit while still maintaining their distance?

 

Decide on your measures

The specifics of what you put in place will depend on your circumstances, including what is physically possible and practical given the building or site. Measures may include:

  • Moving desks so that seated staff are 2m or more away from each other.
  • If 2m isn’t possible, then 1m is acceptable with additional measures, such as wearing masks, ensuring people are sat side by side instead of face to face, or installing screens or barriers (preferably transparent) around desks to provide extra protection.
  • Maximise ventilation to reduce the ‘recycling’ of air.
  • Provide hand gel/sanitizer at key points throughout the office/building – especially entrances and bathrooms.
  • The staff bathroom(s) may be large but even so, consider a ‘one-in-one-out’ policy. And for hand-drying, provide disposable paper towels or an air dryer.
  • Boost your normal workplace cleaning regime – additional disinfecting, more frequent cleaning, etc. – especially in communal spaces and busy areas.
  • Provide additional office equipment so that wherever possible, people are not sharing.
  • Use signs to remind all employees of the need for social distancing.
  • Use floor tape or something similar to mark out safe distances.
  • In corridors and other narrower places where distance can’t be maintained, consider whether a one-way system could be made to work.
  • Minimise contact between teams and departments. This limits employees’ contact to immediate colleagues (in principle, this means managing communication between isolated teams as if they were still in a form of lockdown).
  • Consider changes to working hours – e.g. introducing staggered shifts – to reduce the number of people in the workplace at any one time.
  • Avoid hot-desking wherever possible.

 

Above all, whatever measures you introduce to maintain social distancing and employee safety, involve your workforce in working out what’s appropriate (i.e. give them a say) and then communicate the measures clearly and widely – tape, barriers and bottles of hand sanitizer are just ornaments if people don’t comply and use them.

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