BEIS recent webinar on Returning to Work for Laboratories and Research Facilities is now available to watch, on demand, HERE. For those operating university laboratories, GUIDANCE has been published to help providers of higher education In England understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus outbreak and provide services to students.

BEIS have also issued a SURVEY on how businesses are finding returning to work. This survey is to assist BEIS in understanding the issues being encountered when returning to the workplace or restarting operations. They would be grateful for your input. If you would like to keep up to date with the latest updates to government guidance, please subscribe to the Coronavirus Businesses and Employers Bulletin HERE.

Finally, BEIS have compiled an FAQ from across the webinar series;

 

Should staff/customers be encouraged to wear gloves? How often should these be cleaned or changed?

Where gloves are an existing safety requirement for workers, this guidance does not replace that requirement.

Gloves are not recommended in the context of COVID-19 as it is more effective to wash your hands carefully and to ensure that you do not touch your face. Gloves may provide a false sense of confidence to people wearing them, who then pay less attention to these important actions.

 

Who is responsible for shared outdoor spaces – e.g. where there are queues?

The guidance recommends that you work with neighbouring shops and local authorities to consider what actions could be taken to manage queuing. This may include for example staggering opening times or using staff to direct customers to where they should stand.

 

When can businesses which require close contact, for example driving instructors, dress fitting, and mobile hairdressers, reopen?

The Government’s current planning assumption is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close no earlier than 4 July, subject to the five tests and further detailed scientific advice.

This includes personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons) hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas). They should also meet the COVID-19 Secure guidelines. Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to re-open safely at this point, or may be able to open safely only in part. Nevertheless, the Government will wish to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows.

If, however, as a business because of your individual circumstances you are unclear whether you are permitted to reopen, you should seek legal advice. Read further information about the Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy and our roadmap to lift restrictions step-by-step.

 

Are we permitted to take cash? Are we permitted to refuse to take cash?

We recommend that businesses encourage contactless or card payments where possible to avoid transmission by touch. If cash payments are taken employees should be reminded to wash their hands or use hand sanitiser after serving each customer.

 

Should we allow customers/visitors to use our toilets?

That will be a decision for each business based on their risk assessment. If toilets are in use, set clear use and cleaning guidance to ensure they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible. You should also use social distance marking and manage customers to prevent indoor queuing.

 

Do high touch items like door handles need to be cleaned between each user? If not, how frequently do they need to be cleaned?

This will depend on how many people are working in the space and how heavily used the areas are. A high-traffic area will require more frequent cleaning, particularly where workers and operatives touch direct surfaces, e.g. door handles, handrails. It is also important to make sure workers follow all the good hygiene practices of frequent hand washing and not touching their faces.

 

Who is responsible for the risk assessment for shared buildings?

All employers and self-employed people whose activities may pose a risk to the health and safety of other people should meet the objectives in the guidance to help keep people safe, but the actions they take will depend on the working environment, the size of their workforce and the site.

Businesses that have fewer than five workers do not need to record their risk assessment but still need to take all reasonably practical steps to reduce the risks of COVID-19. You should work collaboratively with landlords and other tenants in multi-tenant sites or buildings, especially where there are common areas like staircases, toilets and receptions.

 

If people can work from home, but it would benefit their mental health to come in to work, are they allowed to do so?

Where it is not reasonably possible for them to work at home a worker might be asked to go to work. Employers have a duty of care toward their workers and should ensure that appropriate steps are taken to mitigate health and safety risks in the workplace. Employers should also be aware of the need to avoid potential direct and indirect discrimination of employees on the grounds of a protected characteristic.

In this unprecedented time, we would urge employers to take socially responsible decisions and listen to the concerns of their workforce. Employers and workers should engage in pragmatic discussions about these arrangements. You should also engage with workers through trades unions or employee representative groups to monitor and understand any unforeseen impacts of changes to working environments. The government has published guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of COVID-19.

 

Are there any set standards or guidelines for Air Conditioning in enclosed places?

Covid-19 is spread either directly from person to person or via contact with a common surface with a relationship for the person to person transmission to the distance between those people. Therefore, there may be some impact of ventilation in enclosed spaces. We are led by the evolving science in this work and, as the scientific and medical advice changes, the guidance will be updated to reflect this.

 

What are businesses responsibilities when it comes to Test and Trace?

It is vital that employers support the NHS test and trace services by making their workplaces as safe as possible and encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation.

Employers must continue to follow health and safety workplace guidance for their sector such as:

  • making every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option,

  • where working from home isn’t possible, identifying sensible measures to control the risks in the workplace,

  • keeping the workplace clean, maintaining safe working separation, and preventing transmission through unnecessary touching of potentially contaminated surfaces.

The NHS test and trace service does not change the existing guidance about working from home wherever possible. Read further guidance on the NHS test and trace service for workplaces.

 

Is checking employee/visitor/customer temperatures recommended?

The evidence is limited on the value of temperature checking at workplaces, but it is being reviewed. In accordance with existing guidance, workers who are showing symptoms of coronavirus including a high temperature, or who share a home with those who are self-isolating, should stay at home.

 

Can I operate if my workplace area is too small to cater for 2 metre distancing? 

Public Health England recommends trying to keep 2 metres away from people as much as possible. If social distancing cannot be carried out businesses should consider whether the task can go ahead, or if it can be altered to allow social distancing. We understand that this is not always possible. The working safely during coronavirus guides provide information on how the risk of infection can be reduced where a 2 metre distance cannot be maintained.

 

I understand that the expectation to publish risk assessments online is not a requirement and will not be requested by HSE. Is that correct? 

Employers need to develop their risk assessments with input from unions and workers, as they do under normal circumstances and all businesses should share the results of their risk assessment with their employees. We are asking employers to publish the results of these assessments whenever possible and the Government expects larger organisations (those with over 50 workers) to publish the results of their risk assessments on their website.

We would expect publication to be on a publicly available internet site rather than an intranet. This is because the risk assessment will also be relevant to customers and suppliers and will help build their confidence. However, you may wish to place the information on your intranet, if you have one, for your employees.

 

What do I do if an employee refuses to return to work stating that they don't believe that the appropriate steps have been put in place?

Employers should consult with unions and employees when carrying out their risk assessment to make sure their concerns can be taken into account. By consulting and involving people in the steps you are taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in your workplace you can: explain the changes you are planning to work safely; make sure changes will work and hear their ideas; and continue to operate your business safely during the outbreak.

Some workers, whether through specific vulnerability, family caring responsibilities or an abundance of caution may be reluctant to re-enter a workplace even though the employer feels it is safe to do so. The Government would encourage employers to engage constructively with such workers and their representatives and try to find solutions that are agreeable to all. ACAS has published advice for employers and employees on returning to the workplace.

 

HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?