With a “roadmap” to lead the UK out of the lockdown due to be set out by the Prime Minister on 10 May 2020, employers across the country are now facing the question of how to safely reopen their workplaces.
Draft guidelines drawn up by the Government were sent to both trade unions and business groups on 3 May, as part of a consultation into what measures should be implemented to allow for an easing of restrictions. The responses on the same were due to be returned by 21:00 on 4 May.
Amongst others, the measures being considered are said to include an increased use of protective screens, staggering the start and finish times in different sectors and a reduction in the use of hot-desking and shared equipment. The Government are also expected in their announcement at the end of the week to re-emphasise the importance of additional hygiene practices and encourage the continuation of working from home wherever possible.
With the Government understandingly concerned about the potential of a second wave of infections, any guidance released is likely to be on phased basis and focused on specific sectors, with the Government looking to reopen a few sections of the economy at a time.
As part of the draft plans, the Government are also set to require employers to carry out coronavirus-specific risk assessments, a measure that is likely to be applied regardless of sector. A risk assessment will be an essential part of any plans to restart business, given the need for employers to identify and address the risks specific to their workplace and industry.
For example, the results of a risk assessment may indicate that additional safety features will need to be installed, such as screens or hygiene stations, which employers will need to allow time for ahead of reopening.
This week, draft copies of guidance documents relating to the Government’s end-of-lockdown proposals were purportedly leaked to a number of news outlets. The documents detailed suggested measures for seven different working environments including factories, retail and hospitality industries. Included in the guidance were the following measures:
- Staggering arrival and departures times to reduce crowding in buildings;
- Handwashing or hand sanitation at entry and exit points;
- Staff to change into work uniforms on site using appropriate changing facilities;
- Reconfiguring seating, desks and tables to maintain spacing and reduce face-to-face interactions; and
- Regulating the use of corridors, lifts and staircases.
A further consideration for employers, away from the physical workplace, is the reintroduction of the workers themselves. Thousands of employers have made use of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, while others have continued through the lockdown with a remote workforce. As such, employers should begin liaising with their HR department to establish when and how these employees can be brought back into the workplace.
Where changes have been made to the workplace following the risk assessments or publication of guidance, employers should consider whether training should be provided on the new safety features and ways of working, and in any case ensure that employees are fully informed of any changes before they start. If new rotas are required to ensure safety, employers will need to be sensitive to the employees’ individual circumstances; for example, staggered start and finish times may not work for those with childcare responsibilities.
It is clear, therefore, that there is plenty for employers to consider ahead of the easing of lockdown, and that thorough planning and consideration of measures will be needed for the long road ahead.