Managing Coronavirus Transmission Risk at Work

Paul Logan

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05 Jun 2020

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With lockdown measures in the UK lifting, as a business you may now be looking to return employees to your premises.

However, this poses major health & safety considerations. You have a duty of care towards your employees and you must look to safeguard their welfare.

As a result, you must now think about how you can reduce the risk of virus infections across your business. And it’s important to stress you can’t eliminate the risk entirely—this is a biohazard, so your approach is about limiting its potential to spread.

If you’re in need of immediate support, you can contact us on 01455 858 132. We also have back to work after coronavirus advice you can read for further information.

You can also read this guide—that’s if you’re in need of guidance with managing the risks of transmission.

Performing a risk assessment

The first step you must take is to analyse your workplace. Look for potential issues, such as where it may prove difficult to maintain a two-metre gap. Such as in:

  • During start and finish times.
  • Kitchen areas.
  • Lifts.
  • Canteens. 
  • Meetings.

Your risk assessment will address where managing the spread of infection is an issue. And you can act to put in place procedures accordingly.

Remember, you’ll need to publish your results on your website—that’s if you have over 50 employees. That’s a legal requirement.

However, if you have fewer than that, it’s still a good idea to post your findings online.

And you should discuss your procedures with employees. That’s to ensure they’re aware of what your (and their) responsibilities are in the months ahead.

How to promote social distancing—and no contact

Minimising contact at work is essential—without a doubt, maintaining a two-metre rule at work is an essential part of limiting risks.

So, you should familiarise yourself with the practice in your workplace. This will have a major impact on reducing the risk of transmissions. Your business should look to enforce the UK government’s regulations.

You can minimise the risk of transmission by enforcing your two-metre procedures. You can take steps such as:

  • Training your employees about what to do.
  • Placing posters around your workplace with reminders and advice.
  • Banning certain activities—such as face-to-face meetings.
  • Placing markers on the floor to indicate the two-metre distance.
  • Staggering work hours to avoid overcrowding.

Your employees will need to do their bit during this time, so you should remind them of their responsibilities.

If they don’t adhere to your rules, it may result in infection spreading. So make it clear to them what they must do.

Using personal protective equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment is a proven technique in combating the spread of infection, so use it where necessary.

During this time, protective clothing, helmets, goggles, masks, and gloves may prove effective in dealing with coronavirus.

If you’re handing PPE out to staff, you should ensure they understand how to use (and clean) the equipment correctly.

Your risk assessment will help you understand which employees require certain equipment.

If you can’t meet social distancing requirements

But what about if you cannot meet two-metres apart for social distancing? “What are my options?” Well, you can consider the following:

  • There is now the option to implement a one metre plus rule in your workplace
  • Whether you need to bring the employee back—is their role essential?
  • If you can place the employee on furlough to ensure their safety.
  • Whether you can redeploy them into a different role temporarily.
  • If there’s personal protective equipment (PPE) the employee can use to ensure their wellbeing.

You’ll need to review each case and make a decision based on your judgment.

So, managing transmission risk at work with less than two-metre of social distancing depends on your risk assessment and the actions you enforce. If you do choose to implement a one metre plus rule, you must ensure you've taken all appropriate measures to ensure safety and have provided the appropriate PPE. 

If staff can work from home, it might be in your interest to let them continue to do so. If you do want them to return to work you need to have a plan of action in place.

It’s essential you and your employees follow through with it. Otherwise it may fail, which could lead to your business having to close again.

How to manage risk transmission in confined spaces

You should assess the risks posed by every confined space. This is an environment that’s enclosed—or largely so.

Typically, it’ll offer a restrictive environment for an employee to work in.

The best approach is to avoid completing any tasks in such a space. But if that isn’t possible, evaluate the situation and consider the risks that are present.

And for any employees working in the space, ensure they’re trained to do so. You can offer additional support where necessary—such as with PPE equipment.

Of course, if there’s one or more people set to work in this area you should limit this to one individual at a time. And consider if this is safe to do so.

For customer-facing roles

Some employees will have to deal with customers in close quarters.

To deal with this, there’s the choice of PPE for less than two-metres social distance at work. The likes of masks and gloves can help to protect your staff—and clients, customers, or visitors.

Using barriers or shields in shared places where staff deal with customers is also essential.

Perspex barriers at, for example, a cashier till are a particularly effective way to limit the risk of infection.

You can also look to enforce strict customer limits in stores. This will help to reduce overcrowding.

Training your employees in all of the above will also help, as they must be aware of their responsibilities and how their actions can affect their colleagues and your customers.

For example, if they’re dealing with customers regularly it’s important they wash their hands more often than they normally would. And for at least 20 seconds.

Physical contact in jobs

There are exceptions where close contact is required. This is for key workers, such as doctors and nurses.

Simply put, they must have contact with some of their patients.  

Individuals who face individual contact with others are at greater risk of contracting coronavirus. The type of roles include:

  • Doctors.
  • Nurses.
  • Paramedics. 
  • Personal care aides.
  • Couriers.
  • The police.

So, if the job requires physical contact with clients and customers—how can you protect your staff and customers? Well, you can provide PPE and ensure they follow the current hygiene guidelines.

Otherwise, you should look to protect the welfare of your staff where possible. Limit their social interaction and ensure they, too, follow hygiene guidelines.

Managing transmission risk in dual working

Dual working is where employees work from your premises, but also at home—you can establish which days to do so with your employee.

At present, this means the member of staff could potentially spread the virus between work and home.

To manage the situation, it’s crucial to ensure the employee has training to understand their hygiene requirements. And for your business to provide a clean and secure working environment.

You can, of course, provide full-time remote working if the employee is capable of doing so. Which removes any risks inherent with travelling to and from work.

Provision of personal services and managing risk of transmission

There’s a requirement in personal service where the worker must carry out their role. This is, for example, the case with freelancers.

If there’s no opportunity to change their contract of employment, and the freelancer is looking to move on from the role, then they must let you know.

However, it’s dependent on the “frustration” and “force majeure” of the contract they agreed to.

There’s no quick resolution to the situation, but the best approach as a business is to discuss the issue with the individual.

Managing transmission risk in work travelling

Right now, commuting presents another risk your employees have to face. As well as you as an employer.

To limit risks, you can allow employees to work remotely—those who can.

Otherwise, staff may come into close contact with others on a regular basis using public transport.

You can provide PPE during this time to limit the chance of infections. As well as ensuring staff follow the current government hygiene regulations of washing their hands frequently.

And, of course, to maintain social distancing (where possible) during and after their commute.

Expert advice

We have over 70 years’ experience assisting small and medium-sized businesses with their health & safety requirements. Get in touch for coronavirus support: 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Paul Logan is an experienced Health and Safety Consultant, having been with Croner for 17 years. He started his career in enforcement with an Environmental Health department before moving to the food Industry as the Group Health & Safety Manager with a large meat processing company.

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