Do office reopenings mean a return to the old normal? As part of the government’s plan to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, businesses are being urged to begin reintroducing employees back into the workplace from the start of this month. But the British Safety Council is urging the Government not to pressurise employers to get workers back into the office – providing a freedom of choice to work from home. Starting next week the Government will run an ad campaign based on encouraging those to go back to the workplace.

Employers will be asked to reassure staff that it is safe to return to the workplace by highlighting measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19. This advice is opposite to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales where employees are still being advised to work from home if possible by Ministers. The new guidance comes as schools in England and Wales begin to fully reopen, relieving thousands of workers from childcare duties.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps quoted some things were impossible to do remotely. While Matt Hankcock stated that he cared more about how employees performed than where they were working.

As we are aware home working has proved a large benefit in the UK’s ongoing battle with the coronavirus pandemic. Home working still being a popular choice, with 39% of the workforce of businesses still trading working remotely – according to the Office for National Statistics. However Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser had stated that given the spread of the virus being dependent on contact, working from home remains an important option and there was no need to change the advice.

Lawrence Waterman, Chair of the British Safety Council had expressed concern as this new campaign should be more about choice – treating workers as responsible adults who should agree with their employers a sensible balance of work in formal workplaces and home. For some, with limited space, distractions like noise and/or a desire for contact with colleagues that balance may be struck differently. But it should not be for the Government to tell employers or workers what arrangements they should make.

The Government should concentrate on getting track and trace to operate effectively and ensuring that HSE inspects any workplace that is involved in a COVID hot spot. Only when the Government does its job of providing PPE to health and care workers, tracing all COVID contacts, making sure workplaces are legally compliant, providing consistent advice to schools, properly funding self isolation, is it entitled to give advice on the home/workplace balance.

All this noise and confusion suggests that we need an interim speedy inquiry to learn the obvious lessons before the risk of a winter second wave.

For your staff returning back to work –
As an employer it is important to protect people from harm meaning for you to take reasonable steps to protect your workers and others from COVID-19. That is why it is important to outline the following in a COVID-19 risk assessment:

* Identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus.
* Think about who could be at risk.
* Decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed.
* Act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk.

Make your workplace COVID secure
With construction site and machinery work it is not possible to work from home there for requiring you as an employer to make changes as to what you might need in your workplace to reduce risk and make it COVID secure:

Social distancing –
* Where possible keep people 2m apart.
* Use floor tape or paint to mark work areas.
* Provide signage to remind people to keep a 2m distance.
* Use screens to create a physical barrier between people.
* Have people working side by side rather than face to face.
* Limit movement of people.
* Rotating between jobs and equipment.
* Using lifts and work vehicles
* In high traffic areas like corridors, turnstiles and walkways
* Allow only essential trips within buildings and between sites.
Cleaning and hygiene –

Coronavirus can transfer easily from a person to a surface, it can be passed on to others who then touch that surface. Keeping your workplace clean reduces the spread of coronavirus through surfaces.

More information can be found on the government HSE website
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‘Now is not the time for unnecessary trips to the office’