So, how do you as a UK employer who is understandably keen to get back to maximum working capacity, set about ensuring staff and visitors to your office are safe? For your own sake, and those of your employers, you will obviously want to do this, of course.
And, recognising this willingness to comply with the new safety measures, the government has come up with a list of guidelines on how to help you achieve what, let’s face it, may prove a very onerous task for some employers. The guidelines are vague, rather than detailed, but there are common principles around hand-washing and what constitutes social distancing, for example.
Without being too dictatorial, the government is asking employers to do “everything reasonably practicable” to ensure you minimise any health risks. But it does go on to admit that it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19.
Be warned too: employers that fail to carry out a reasonable risk assessment or introduce any measures at all, including social distancing could face a hefty fine or, worse still, end up in prison with a two-year sentence!
Current government advice is that the first stage for any large employer (those with five staff or more) is to carry out a written risk assessment. Those who have less than five staff or individuals who are self-employed don’t need to produce a written assessment. Meanwhile, for those that do, the government have published a document outlining what to include in your risk assessment.
As an employer, you actually have a legal duty to consult your staff on health and safety measures. But, of course, it makes perfect sense too. Your staff are the people’s whose health is potentially going to be most affected by any transmission of Covid-19, after all. And they are the people on the ‘shop’ (or in this case, ‘office’) floor.
You don’t have to speak to each and every member of staff – ask them to collectively appoint a representative (legally, you cannot do this for them). He or she could also be a trade union representative if no-one from the staff team wants to come forward. The chosen individual can list concerns and suggestions on your staff’s behalf and, following further consultation with the team, do the same when it comes to reviewing those measures.
Employers are expected to make special concessions for staff who have pre-existing conditions that could pose a serious health risk should they contract coronavirus. That means mainly working from home. If this is impossible then two metre distancing rules should be applied (one metre at a push).
Employees who have symptoms of Covid-19 should be stopped from coming into the office. This includes those who are living in a bubble with someone who is self-isolating after using the government’s test and trace service.
But your employers shouldn’t be reliant on their representative to find out the results of the company’s risk assessment. Customers may also be keen to know what safety measures have been taken. As such, the government are asking employers to make them public. To the extent, all employees with 50 or more staff are urged to publish the results on their website.
Notices should also be displayed in offices indicating that the company is following government guidelines with respect to social distancing and other Covid-19 safety measures.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can force any non-complying employers to introduce Covid-19 safety measures. That’s because not carrying out a risk assessment, or undertaking an assessment but then failing to act on it is actually breaching health and safety laws.
Failing to comply with an HSE enforcement order within a set timescale, ignoring it, or continually breaching regulations is when the situation becomes serious for employers. This is where the worst offenders could find themselves facing a potential prison sentence.
It’s worth mentioning here that altering the layout and introducing new control measures could potential cause a security risk for any business. For your own sake, assess this too.
At Metric office furniture and interiors we have been producing design and space solutions for offices for more than 50 years now.
In light of the need for office staff to maintain social distance during the Covid-19 scare, we are manufacturing a range of signage for employers to choose from. You can see this on our special ‘graphics’ page on our website www.metric-office.co.uk. To get in touch call us on 01784 456 850. You can also drop us an email via firstname.lastname@example.org