We have put together some guidance for businesses based on the two topics which we have found they are struggling to implement: Physical distancing and hygiene in the workplace. We hope you find it useful.
COVID‑19 will be with us for some time, so it’s important that your business has a plan ‑ and continues to plan ‑ to keep your workplace healthy, safe and virus‑free. This guidance will help your business prepare a plan for the different stages of the pandemic. It covers:
- How to make sure that staff who are working can do so productively and safely
- A guide to understanding the issues around physical distancing and what practical steps you do to make your staff feel safe
- Help you to put effective hygiene regimes in place to make sure that you minimise contact with the virus
You should revise any plan frequently, particularly as restrictions and conditions change.
Important resources from the Government and Health and Safety websites.
There are a number of important work health and safety laws, obligations and duties your business needs to comply with. It’s important you carefully review the guidance using the links below to understand your obligations and ensure your business is properly prepared. What needs to be done to meet your work health and safety obligations will depend on your business’s individual circumstances – these will have changed because of COVID‑19.
You must talk to your employees to understand their concerns and work together to ensure your workplace is COVID Safe. A worker who reasonably believes their workplace or work practice were harmful or potentially harmful to health or safety has the legal right to refuse to undertake it.
It will also be important that you continue to plan and adapt as circumstances change, so make sure you stay up to date with current advice and guidelines. Below are some of the issues you should be looking at as an employer:
- What are my duties under employment and health safety law?
e.g.: who do I owe a duty to? facilities, identify and manage risks, training, emergency plans
- What can I do to keep workers safe?
e.g.: health monitoring, physical distancing, hygiene, vulnerable workers, PPE
- Working from home
- e.g.: mental health, home station set ups, identify and manage risks
- What are my worker’s rights?
- e.g.: consultation, discrimination, right to stop work
- Cleaning and protection
- e.g.: how to clean, what to use, PPE, masks, gloves
- Mental health
- e.g.: looking after yourself and your staff, work related violence, family and domestic violence
Other helpful resources
This is a difficult time – we all need support. Industry associations and Chambers of Commerce have tailored advice and support which might help your business.
It’s also vitally important that you think about mental health – both for you and your workers.
Here are some resources that might be helpful:
Keeping people safe (you, staff, customers and the public)
The first step in preparing your business for operating in the COVID‑19 environment is to understand how your risks have changed. This is why it’s critical your business completes a risk assessment and follows guidance from the Health and Safety Executive https://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/controlling-risks.htm
Health and Safety Executive’s risk assessment guidance will help you identify how your business needs to prepare. You will need to know the current restrictions and how they apply to your business. You can also use this information to update your existing risk assessment plan for COVID‑19 risks.
- Read through the HSE advice on how to undertake a risk assessment.
- Complete or update your risk assessment. Keep it somewhere safe and easily accessible. Review and update it regularly to make sure you keep on top of any new risks that may emerge or as public health advice changes. Setting a reminder in your phone can help make this a habit.
It’s critical that your business completes a risk assessment and follows guidance from the HSE executive.
Remember to talk to your workers as soon as possible – they will also know where potential risks may exist and have ideas about how to make your workplace COVID Safe.
What do I need to do to keep my workers safe and limit the spread of COVID-19?
Employers have three options for their employees, either keep them working from home or ask them to come back to their workplace or a combination of both. All the options needs thought and planning to make sure that you keep them safe and productive.
If you as an employer are asking your employees to work somewhere that they perceive to be unsafe, or if they have other issues which mean that they can’t return to work, then this might not be a reasonable management request. Many people are struggling with issues around transport, childcare and caring responsibilities and these issues must form part of your planning and implementation.
Staff must not to come into work if they are unwell.
Ideally as an employer you will need to carry out a simple risk assessment of your employee’s home working environment and consider how suitable someone is to work from home effectively. Some people enjoy the flexibility of home working, others miss physically being in the same work space with their colleagues. One of the most important issues is how employees use their computer as they need to be comfortable sitting for long periods. The following principles are a good rule of thumb for a comfortable sitting position:
- Balanced head, not leaning forward.
- Arms relaxed by your side.
- Forearms parallel to desk.
- Screen approximately arm’s length from you
- Top of screen about eye level.
- Space behind knee to the edge of your chair
- Feet flat on floor or on a footrest.
An adjustable chair which makes getting the right height easier is beneficial. If employees are using a dining room chair, they might have to sit on a cushion to get the right height and use a cushion for lower back support. This method works just as well if you are using a desktop and monitor. Sitting on a settee, armchair or edge of the bed is definitely not a good idea!
Employees should choose a space with lots of natural light, avoiding glare or reflection to reduce eye strain and headaches. Research shows that making your home desk look like your work desk work makes it easier to complete your work.
Bringing employees back into the workplace
If it is not possible to work from home or redesign practices, there are two key issues for employers to understand and implement in the workplace:
- Physical distancing
- Effective hygiene practices
Physical distancing is important because COVID-19 is most likely to spread through close contact with a person who has the infection and who may not yet have developed symptoms. Physical distancing means keeping people apart. Currently, this means keeping a distance of at least 2 metres between people.
The likelihood of interactions causing the spread of COVID-19 is low if physical distancing advice and good hygiene are followed as the virus is unlikely to be spread
Remember, you must consult with workers and health and safety representatives on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including what control measures to put in place in your workplace.
Why is physical distancing important?
Physical distancing is necessary because the most likely way of catching the virus is by breathing in micro-droplets from another person sneezing, coughing, or exhaling. By ensuring you maintain a physical distance of at least 2 metres from others where possible, you will reduce the likelihood of exposure to micro-droplets of others.
Current advice is that everyone, including people at workplaces, must implement physical distancing measures wherever possible.
How do I make sure there is 2 metres between people?
You should consider and make adjustments to the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 2 metres apart to continue performing their duties. For example, this could be achieved by, spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing, or considering floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 2 metres distancing requirements.
You should also review tasks and processes that usually require close interaction and identify ways to modify these to increase physical distancing between workers where it is practical and safe to do so.
My workers cannot maintain a physical distance of 2 metres when performing work. Does this mean they cannot perform work?
It will not always be possible for workers and others to keep 2 metres apart at all times at the workplace. For example, workers may have to work closely with each other or others because of the nature of the task
Working in close contact increases the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19. You must consider whether the work task must be completed or could be rescheduled to a later date. If the task must be completed and your workers will be in close contact, you must undertake a risk assessment to determine what control measures are reasonably practicable in the circumstances to eliminate or minimise health and safety risks from COVID-19. For example, if close contact with others is unavoidable, you must implement other control measures such as:
- minimising the number of people within an area at any time.
- limit access to the workplace or parts of the workplace to essential workers only.
- staggering start, finish and break times where appropriate.
- moving work tasks to different areas of the workplace or off-site if possible.
- if possible, separating workers into dedicated teams and have them work the same shift or work in a particular area and consider whether these dedicated teams can have access to their own meal areas or break facilities.
- ensuring each worker has their own equipment or tools.
- wearing appropriate PPE to minimise risks.
- reducing the number of tasks to be completed each day, where possible.
- postponing non-essential work.
- splitting workers’ shifts to reduce the number of workers onsite at any given time. Schedule time between shifts so that there is no overlap of staff arriving at and leaving the workplace or have different entrances and exits to avoid interaction.
- put signs around the workplace and create wall or floor markings to identify 2 metres distance. Your staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to themselves and each other of physical distancing requirements.
- limit physical interactions between workers, workers and clients, and workers and other persons at the site – e.g. by using contactless deliveries and limiting non-essential visitors.
- require workers to use other methods such as mobile phone or radio to communicate rather than face to face interaction.
- ensure rooms are well-ventilated so that air changes several times an hour.
Layout of the workplace
You may need to redesign the layout of the workplace and your workflows to enable workers to keep at least 2 metres apart to continue performing their duties. This can be achieved by, where possible:
- restricting workers and others to certain pathways or areas.
- spreading out furniture or plant to increase distancing.
- floor and/or wall markings and signage to identify 2 metres distancing requirements.
If changing the physical layout of the workplace, you must allow for workers to enter, exit and move about the workplace both under normal working conditions and in an emergency without risks to their health and safety.
Staff gatherings and training
Postpone or cancel non-essential gatherings, meetings or training. If these are essential:
- use non face-to-face options to conduct – e.g. electronic communication such as tele and video conferencing
- if a non face-to-face option is not possible, ensure face-to-face time is limited and lasts no longer than it needs to.
- hold the gathering, meeting or training in spaces that enable workers to keep at least 2 metres apart and with 4 square metres of space per person – e.g. outdoors or in large conference rooms.
- limit the number of attendees. This may require, for example, multiple training sessions to be held.
- ensure adequate ventilation if held indoors.
- Reduce the number of workers utilising common areas at a given time – e.g by staggering meal breaks and start times.
- Spread out furniture in common areas.
- Place signage about physical distancing around the workplace. These posters can be placed around the workplace and in client-facing work environments (e.g. workplace entrances). Consideration needs to be given for those where English is not their first language.
- Consider providing separate amenities such as kitchens and bathrooms for workers and visitors/clients.
Even if workers and others only spend a short amount of time in a lift each day, there is still a risk of exposure to COVID-19 that you must eliminate or minimise so far as reasonably practicable.
- You must still ensure, as far as you reasonably can, that people maintain physical distancing in lifts and lift waiting areas.
- Remember, you must consult with workers and their representatives (e.g. health and safety representatives) on health and safety matters relating to COVID-19, including when using lifts.
- You must also consult with the building owner/manager and other employers in the building about the control measures to be implemented to address the risk of COVID-19. You may not be able to implement all of the control measures yourself but must work with others to ensure those measures are put in place.
Safe use of lifts is best achieved through a combination of measures, determined in consultation with workers, including those that control the number of people needing to use a lift at any one time. This includes:
- reducing the number of workers arriving and leaving buildings and using lifts in peak periods, where possible (e.g. stagger start and finish times for workers by 10-15 minutes per team or group).
- maintaining working from home arrangements for some staff (where this works for both you and your workers). This could include splitting the workforce into teams with alternating days or weeks in the workplace.
- changing lift programming to facilitate more efficient flow of users – e.g. decrease the time that doors stay open on each floor (where safe to do so) or where there are multiple lifts, assign specific lifts to certain floors based on demand (e.g. lift A to service floors 1-5, lift B to service floors 6-8 etc).
- it is still important that lift users physically distance themselves to the extent possible when waiting for a lift and when in the lift. You must do what you reasonably can to ensure crowding in and around lifts does not occur.
In the lift lobby or waiting area:
- ensure workers and others maintain a physical distance of 2 metres, to the extent possible.
- implement measures at waiting areas for lifts, such as floor markings or queuing systems. Also create specific pathways and movement flows for those exiting the lifts where possible (you may need to consult with your building manager or other employers in the building to ensure this occurs). You could consider engaging someone to monitor compliance with physical distancing measures where appropriate.
- place signage around lift waiting areas reminding users to practice physical distancing and good hygiene while waiting for and using lifts, including to wait for another lift if the lift is full.
- display an advisory passenger limit for each lift
- users of lifts must maintain physical distancing, to the extent possible.
- place signage in the lift reminding workers and others to practice good hygiene by washing their hands, or where this is not possible, using appropriate hand sanitiser, after exiting the lift, particularly if they touched lift buttons, rails or doors – see also our information on hygiene
- implement regular cleaning of high touchpoints such as lift buttons and railings – see also our information on cleaning.
In some cases, depending on the design of a building, stairs may be an option to reduce demand on lifts. If workers and others are to use stairwells or emergency exits as an alternative to using lifts, you must identify and address any new risks that may arise. For example:
- the increased risk of slips, trips and falls particularly if the stairs are narrow and dimly lit.
- the risk that arises when opening and closing heavy fire doors.
- the risk that a person may become trapped in the stairwell.
You must also consider workers’ compensation arrangements and whether your contract of tenancy allows for workers to use stairs, other than in an emergency.
You must also consider how existing measures will be impacted if you allow workers and others to use stairwells or emergency exits. For example:
- does increased usage of emergency exits and stairwells impact your emergency plans and procedures?
- will stairwell usage increase the risk of fire doors being left open?
Deliveries, contractors and visitors attending the workplace
- Non-essential visits to the workplace should be cancelled or postponed.
- Minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors as much as possible.
- Delivery drivers and other contractors who need to attend the workplace to provide maintenance or repair services or perform other essential activities, should be given clear instructions of your requirements while they are on site.
- Ensure handwashing facilities, or if not possible, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, is readily available for workers after physically handling deliveries.
- Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to remain in vehicles and use contactless methods such as mobile phones to communicate with your workers wherever possible. Providing where possible access to a toilet.
- Direct visiting delivery drivers and contractors to use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before handling products being delivered.
- Use, and ask delivery drivers and contractors to use, electronic paper work where possible, to minimise physical interaction. Where possible, set up alternatives to requiring signatures. For instance, see whether a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods can be accepted as proof of delivery or collection (as applicable). If a pen or other utensil is required for signature you can ask that the pen or utensil is cleaned or sanitised before use. For pens, you may wish to use your own.
On-going review and monitoring
If physical distancing measures introduce new health and safety risks (e.g. because they impact communication or mean that less people are doing a task), you need to manage those risks too. Put processes in place to regularly monitor and review the implementation of physical distancing measures to ensure they are being followed and remain effective.
Do I need to provide personal protective equipment to workers who are in close contact with each other?
You must ensure workers comply with physical distancing requirements where possible. In circumstances where the nature of the task requires workers to be in close contact, you must put control measures in place that minimise the time workers spend with each other or with other people in the workplace. You must also ensure workers are practicing good hygiene.
If you have a situation where, despite other control measures, workers will be in close contact with each other or with other people for longer than the recommended time (i.e more than 15 minutes face to face consider the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Workers must be trained in the proper use of PPE. Be aware of the workplace risks that may arise as a result of workers using and wearing PPE.
My workers need to travel in a vehicle together for work purposes. How do they practice physical distancing?
Physical distancing in vehicles
You must maintain physical distancing wherever possible between individuals when in vehicles:
- avoid multiple occupancy vehicles where safe to do so
- vehicles should not be shared if possible
- if it is not possible to keep a 2m distance in a vehicle, consider additional safety measures
Steps that will usually be needed:
- Devising mitigation measures where workers have no alternative but to work within 2m to minimise the risk of transmission, including:
– clear signage to outline social distancing measures in place
– single person or contactless refuelling where possible
– using physical screening, provided this does not compromise safety, for example, through reducing visibility
– sitting side-by-side not face-to-face and increasing ventilation where possible
- Using a fixed pairing system if people have to work in close proximity, for example in a vehicle.
- Making sure vehicles are well-ventilated to increase the flow of air, for example, by opening a window.
- Ensure regular cleaning of vehicles, in particular between different users.
You must reduce the number of workers travelling together in a vehicle for work purposes. You should ensure that only two people are in a 5 seat vehicle – the driver and a worker behind the front passenger seat. Only one worker should be in a single cab vehicle.
These measures may mean:
- more of your vehicles are on the road at one time
- more workers are driving and for longer periods than usual (if driving by themselves).
Because of this, you should review your procedures and policies for vehicle maintenance and driver safety to ensure they are effective and address all possible risks that arise when workers drive for work purposes.
If workers are required to travel together for work purposes and the trip is longer than 15 minutes, windows should be opened for the duration of the trip.
You must also clean vehicles following each use, no matter the length of the trip.
Do workers need to practice physical distancing when on a lunch break or when travelling to and from work?
Yes. Workers must always comply with any public health directions or orders. This includes maintaining a physical distance of 2 metres between people.
Do I have to maintain physical distancing if I’m visiting a client’s home?
Yes. The rules apply even when the workplace is a private home or dwelling. The client’s home is a workplace when you or your worker are there to perform work
You or your worker should talk to the client to ensure they understand the risks of COVID-19 and about the control measures to reduce the risk of exposing them and your worker to the virus.
Handwashing and hygiene
COVID-19 is most likely spread from person to person through:
- Direct contact with a person while they are infectious.
- Contact with droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- Touching objects or surfaces that are contaminated by droplets coughed or sneezed from an infected person.
Good hygiene is necessary to stop the spread. This means:
- frequent hand washing with soap, or hand sanitising, including before and after you eat and after going to the bathroom.
- hand washing should take 20-30 seconds.
- hands (palms, fingers and back of their hands) should be covered with soap prior to washing them with warm water. This should occur after a worker has had contact with a customer, as well as after cash transactions. It is particularly important workers sanitise or wash their hands before or after touching their face.
- alcohol-based hand sanitisers with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol are the recommended form of hand hygiene. If hand sanitiser is unavailable, workers should be regularly given the opportunity to wash their hands with soap.
- avoiding physical contact with others such as through shaking hands.
- avoiding touching eyes, nose and face.
- covering mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing with a clean tissue or elbow.
- putting used tissues straight into the bin.
Practical good hygiene examples:
- have automatic alerts set up on computer systems to remind workers about washing hands and not touching eyes, nose and face.
- have hand sanitiser stations on entry and exit points and around the workplace generally.
- cashless transactions.
- increase access to closed bins.
Signage and posters
It is important that you have signs and posters around the workplace to remind workers and others of the risks of COVID-19 and the measures that are necessary to stop its spread. This includes posters on what is COVID-19 and how we can stop it spreading, how to wash your hands and the physical distancing requirements.
Think about your business’ hygiene and cleaning practices. Are there enough supplies? Are frequently used areas cleaned regularly? What do I need?
- Detergent, either as a solution or as wipes, or
- A 2-in-1 detergent and disinfectant solution, or wipes which can be used for routine cleaning.
When should I clean?
- Clean your workplace at the end of the work day using a detergent, or a 2-in-1 detergent and disinfectant solution. Focus on frequently touched surfaces such as table tops, door handles, light switches, desks, toilets and toilet doors, taps, TV remotes, kitchen surfaces and cupboard handles.
- Clean objects and surfaces used repeatedly by lots of people frequently throughout the day using a detergent, or 2-in-1 detergent and disinfectant solution. For example: trolleys and baskets, checkouts, card reader machines, handrails, lift buttons.
- Clean surfaces and fittings that are visibly soiled or after any spillage as soon as possible using a detergent, or a 2-in-1 detergent and disinfectant solution.
- Instruct workers to clean personal property that has been brought to work and is likely to be handled at work or during breaks with a detergent or 2-in-1 detergent and disinfectant solution, or wipes. For example: sunglasses, mobile phones, iPad’s, car keys. This checklist will assist you to implement health and hygiene measures at your workplace and do a review of your facilities.
How to safely clean
- Read the product label and Safety Data Sheet for the cleaning product(s) before using and make sure you follow all instructions, including all required personal protective equipment (PPE). Also make sure the product is suitable for use on the surface you are cleaning.
- Instruct workers to wear gloves when cleaning and ensure they know to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, or to use alcohol-based hand sanitiser if they cannot wash their hands, both before and after wearing gloves.
- If possible, use disposable gloves when cleaning and discard after each use. Otherwise, only use reusable gloves for routine cleaning and do not share gloves between workers.
- Dispose of any disposable cloths in a rubbish bag, or launder reusable cloths in the usual way. Cleaning if someone in my workplace is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 Preparing to clean
- Prevent access to the areas that were used by the suspected or confirmed case as well as any common areas (break rooms, bathrooms) and any known or likely touch points.
- Open outside doors and windows if possible, to increase air circulation.
What do I need?
- A detergent, as a solution that can be mixed with water,
- A disinfectant containing alcohol in a concentration of 70%, chlorine bleach in a concentration of 1000 parts per million oxygen bleach, or wipes and sprays that contain quaternary ammonium compounds.
- A combined detergent and disinfectant solution.
- Appropriate PPE for cleaning staff, including disposable gloves and safety eyewear.
- Provide a disposable apron where there is visible contamination with respiratory secretions or other bodily fluids.
- A surgical mask if the person suspected to have COVID-19 is in the room.
What should I clean?
- all areas of suspected or confirmed contamination
- any common areas (e.g. break rooms, washrooms), and
- any known or likely touch points in the workplace. How to safely clean
- read the product label and Safety Data Sheet for the cleaning product(s) before using and make sure you follow all instructions, including all required PPE. Also make sure the product is suitable for use on the surface you are cleaning.
- Ensure staff are trained in putting PPE on and taking PPE off, including washing or sanitising hands between steps.
- Use disposable gloves where possible, and discard after each use. Wash or sanitise hands before and after wearing gloves. After cleaning
- Dispose of any single-use PPE, disposable cloths and covers in a rubbish bag and place it inside another rubbish bag and dispose of in general waste.
- Launder any reusable cleaning equipment including mop heads and disposable cloths and completely dry before re-use.
- Empty and re-clean equipment such as buckets with a fresh solution of disinfectant.
Responding to a COVID‑19 infection: Do you know what to do in the event of an infection?
You should plan for how to respond if there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID‑19 associated with your business. Your plan will depend on the circumstances of your own business and whether the affected person has physically been in the workplace. It is important to take the time to plan now so your business is confident it can respond swiftly and easily.
You are not expected, and should not try, to diagnose people. However, you have a work health and safety duty to minimise the risk of workers and others in the workplace being exposed to COVID-19, so far as reasonably practicable. If you reasonably suspect someone could have the virus, or has been exposed, this creates a health risk at your workplace, and you will need to follow the steps below.
The person you are concerned about is at the workplace
- ISOLATE Prevent the spread. Isolate the person from others and provide a disposable surgical mask, if available, for the person to wear.
- SEEK ADVICE Follow advice of public health officials.
- TRANSPORT Ensure the person has transport to their home and only to a medical facility if advised to do so by NHS111)
- CLEAN and disinfect the areas where the person and close contacts have been. Do not use those areas until this process is complete. Use PPE when cleaning.
- IDENTIFY & INFORM Consider who the person has had close contact with. Tell close contacts they may have been exposed and follow advice on quarantine requirements and follow the information on the governments track and trace system.
- REVIEW Risk management controls relating to COVID-19 and review whether work may need to change. Consult workers with workers on all issues around workplace health.
The person you are concerned about was recently at the workplace
- SEEK ADVICE Call 111 and or follow advice of public health officials.
- IDENTIFY & INFORM Identify who at the workplace had close contact with the affected person. If instructed by public health officials, tell close contacts they may have been exposed and follow advice on quarantine requirements.
- CLEAN and disinfect the areas where the person and their close contacts have been. Do not use those areas until this process is complete. Use PPE when cleaning.
- REVIEW risk management controls relating to COVID-19 and review whether work may need to change. Consult workers on workplace health issues
You can find information on track and trace here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-test-and-trace-how-it-works
This information has been compiled by Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service and should be used for guidance only, always check for current guidance and new advice from reliable sources. June 2020.