Office workers should consider holding meetings outside, shop changing rooms should be cleaned after every user and takeaway customers should wait in their cars, under sweeping new back-to-work guidelines issued by the government on Monday.
Companies across Britain will have to consult with their staff and union officials about how they will keep employees safe as they return to work amid the gradual lifting of lockdown measures.
Under pressure from Labour and trades unions to impose safeguarding measures as the economy gradually reopens after more than a month of lockdown, the guidelines give limited time to some firms as they plan to reopen as soon as this week.
They range from urging office workers to sit back-to-back, rather than face-to-face, to limiting numbers in lifts and closing down canteens.
Published after Boris Johnson said people who could not work from home should be encouraged to return to their jobs, the guidelines urge firms to draw up health and safety assessments that take into account the risks posed by Covid-19. It said the plans “must be done in consultation with unions or workers”.
Up to £14m of additional funding will be made available to help the Health and Safety Executive to police workplace practices as the economy gradually reopens. Union bosses had warned investment was vital to enforce the rules and sanction bad practices.
However, the flood of papers released late on Monday warned that the guides were only “non-statutory guidance to take into account”, meaning firms would not be breaking any laws if they breached them.
Alok Sharma, the business secretary, said the guidance was pragmatic and would help firms to return their staff safely to work. “And as we are able to reopen new sectors of the economy, we will continue our collaborative approach, working with a wide range of stakeholders, to provide guidance for additional workplaces.”
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said the guidelines were a step in the right direction from ministers after consultation with unions.
“Getting this right is in the national interest,” she said. “If rogue employers cut corners it puts us all at risk of another spike in infections.”
She also warned that the “ government must get to grips with the ongoing crisis in PPE, as more workers start to require it.”
The main guidelines:
Shops and branches
Contactless payments and refunds, limiting the number of customers in store and keeping in-store cafes closed are among the steps retailers and banks have been advised to take.
Clothing stores must consider if it’s safe to open fitting rooms, and if they do they must clean them frequently, typically between each user. They should possibly delay the return to the shopfloor of clothes that have been tried on.
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Customer handling of merchandise should be limited – maybe by using new displays or signage, or by rotating stock that is touched a lot. Returns to be done without contact, and items that have been brought back kept separate from other stock.
Office and contact centres
Back-to-back working, rather than face-to-face, and protective screens between staff are recommended. Staff should work in fixed teams to reduce the number of people workers are in contact with.
Hot desking should be avoided and more storage should be provided for bags and coats. Packaged meals could be provided to avoid opening staff canteens.
Staff who usually enter through a turnstile should show a pass to security instead. Entry and exit points should be one way if possible. Desks should be cleaned and cleared at the end of shifts.
Maximum occupancy in lifts should be reduced. Avoid unnecessary meetings, or hold them outside.
Face masks are optional but employers must support staff who choose to wear them. Personal deliveries to the office should be restricted and contact minimised for essential deliveries, such as by pairing up the courier and recipient where goods come in frequently.
Building companies must consider which staff they need on site, with support staff told to work from home where possible. Access should be restricted on building sites to encourage social distancing, while jobs and equipment rotation should also be reduced.
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Break times should be staggered and hand sanitiser and cleaning should be available, especially for cleaning shared tools or vehicles, such as forklift trucks and pallet trucks. Arrival times and shift patterns should also be staggered.
Factories, plants and warehouses
Screens and barriers should be used where possible to separate work spaces and production lines should be reviewed to space people apart. Packaged meals should be available to avoid opening staff canteens, where possible.
Pass readers at turnstiles should be deactivated in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance, while alternatives should be made available for touch-based security points such as key pads.
Minimising unnecessary contact at gatehouse security, yards and warehouses should be encouraged, including non-contact, pre-booked deliveries.
The guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people’s homes warns no work should be conducted in any households with Covid-19 symptoms or where individuals have been asked to shield themselves – unless to remedy an urgent risk.
When working in people’s homes, discussions should be held before a visit to ask that a two-metre distance be kept from those working. Avoid in-person appointments if possible.
Labs and research facilities
Suggested measures include working back to back, divided by protective screens. Shift patterns should be staggered and fixed working groups set up to reduce numbers in labs, with more entry and exit points made available.
Use of “high-touch” equipment should be limited and equipment such as goggles washed. Air filtering systems should be installed where there is a risk of airborne particles.
Restaurants offering delivery and takeaway
Kitchen access must be restricted to as few people as possible. Only one person at a time should enter walk-in fridges and pantries. Contact must be minimised at “handover” points, such as where staff pass food to delivery drivers.
Customers waiting for food should wait in their cars ideally, while two-metre spaces should be demarcated where people have to queue.
Laminated menus must be cleaned and paper menus disposed of. Condiments in disposable packaging are preferable.
Workers should wash hands more frequently, especially before touching plates and takeaway boxes. Uniforms should be washed on site where possible. Shared delivery vehicles to be cleaned between shifts. Clear messaging, including images, should be used to inform staff who may not speak good English of the new measures.
Couriers, lorry drivers and taxi drivers are all covered by this advice. Vehicles should ideally not be shared but additional safety measures should be considered if there is no other option – eg using fixed pairs of workers to share, and opening windows to increase ventilation.
Employers should make sure depots are not overcrowded, and allow goods to be loaded without interaction. Alternatives to two-person deliveries, such as using mechanical equipment, should be considered. Drop-offs should be contactless.
Drivers should have access to toilet facilities during their journeys and at their destinations, which could mean the employer needs to book them in.
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