Restarting Your Business After Coronavirus

Introduction

The information presented by the Government’s Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser on Monday 20th April indicated that the UK may have passed the peak of Covid-19 infections. Our attention is drawn to restarting business, although the timing of when the restrictions are to be eased will be carefully balanced between the need to control a second wave of infection and the economic impact of a lengthy shutdown on the economy as well as health conditions outside of coronavirus

It seems more likely that the Government will ease restrictions in a phased approach rather than a complete relaxation. We had an insight on 23rd April when the Health Secretary stated that he was ‘comfortable’ with car manufacturers, hardware retailers and construction businesses returning to work as they weren’t originally required to close and they had been ‘working out how they can have safe working following the social distancing rules whilst people are at work’. Furthermore, the Scottish Government’s document ‘Covid-19 – A Framework for Decision Making’ [1] sets out their transition from ‘lockdown’ with risk assessment as a core theme throughout. 

This paper intends to outline a structured risk management approach that can be used to justify the re-opening of businesses, provide assurance to staff and customers as well as mitigate negative publicity. 

Risk Management

The number of Covid-19 cases can be identified by county or district using publicly available figures at https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/#regions.  Accepting that asymptomatic carriers will be present, the incidence can be cross referenced against company location(s) and those where there are lower levels of infection will have an inherently lower risk. Other risk factors should then be considered:

  • The ability to socially distance during the journey to and from work.
  • The ability to socially distance whilst at work.
  • Vulnerability of the workforce which is determined by their age and the presence of an existing health condition in either themselves or their contact family members.
  • The number and vulnerability of visitors, customers and contractors.
  • The ability to regularly clean common surfaces / touch points. Covid-19 has remained detectable on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and steel for up to 72 hours although its presence does not necessarily equate to an infectious quantity.
  • Access to suitable welfare facilities.

All these factors will determine the location’s overall risk profile and the suitability to re-open. As described in the earlier paper on physical health, where a workplace re-opens there will be need for ‘social distance’ related risk controls. Using the Health & Safety Executive’s risk management hierarchy [2] the following should be considered: 

Risk Elimination

  • Shielding vulnerable employees by allowing them to continue to work from home. This may involve providing them with a new role or tasks which in turn may require training and other support. 
  • Allowing non-vulnerable persons to continue to work from home where possible. 
  • Use of video conference calling facilities instead of face to face meetings.
  • Close parts of the workplace to employees such as small kitchens and gyms where social distancing will be compromised, or safe working measures cannot be implemented. 
  • Close parts of the workplace to the public that are not in use. 

Risk Substitution

  • Reducing the workforce present by, for example, extending project deadlines and reducing production and stock lines. 
  • Restrict school attendance to year groups or pupils that are most disadvantaged by their closure.
  • Encourage employees to use private rather than public transport.
  • Allowing flexible working hours or change shift patterns so that staff can avoid ‘peak’ times on public transport.
  • Amending shift start and finish times to limit gatherings in areas such as locker rooms, canteens and reception areas. 
  • Providing a takeaway / collection or delivery service that limits physical interaction.
  • Encouraging the use of contactless payment.

Engineering Controls 

  • Control the number of customers in retail environments through the introduction of a queuing system and entry control.
  • Additional barriers / spacing / floor markings in front of the interaction points such as retail checkouts and store entrances.
  • Arrange the use of office workstations or chairs and tables in public areas to allow for a two metre space between persons.
  • Limit the presence of contractors to those undertaking safety critical maintenance and examination of plant and equipment.
  • Ask staff or customers to regularly clean shared equipment, hand touch points and work surfaces, using domestic cleaning chemicals and a disposable cloth which is then disposed of in a lidded pedal-operated bin. Regular household cleaners are effective, including bleach solutions and (at least) 70% alcohol solutions. 
  • Provide access to suitable welfare facilities and promote thorough and regular hand washing. 
  • Provide additional temporary welfare facilities if necessary. 
  • Providing adequate ventilation and air changes inside buildings.
  • Avoid touching your face.

Administrative Controls

  • Inform managers on the expected risk controls and develop a process to ensure they are being implemented. 
  • Inform staff of the Covid-19 safe working practices, ideally keeping a record to confirm their understanding. This should emphasise the need to maintain a two metre distance and personal hygiene. 
  • Identify and deliver any additional training where individuals move to roles that require a new skill or a present new health and safety risk or role such as becoming a fire marshal or appointed person for first aid.
  • Ask all persons to actively declare that they are Covid-19 symptom free.
  • Send home anyone that has symptoms of Covid-19 and advise them to follow the Government’s guidance. 
  • Display information on distancing and hygiene requirements expected of staff and the general public throughout workplaces.

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Use gloves where there may be contact with common hand touch points or items.
  • It should be noted that advice on the wearing of masks is being debated. To take a precautionary approach, they may offer further protection where there is difficulty in maintaining social distance such as on public transport. 

The risk assessment needs to be thoroughly documented, to at least include:

  • Who might be harmed and how (e.g. employees, customers).
  • the steps already being taken to control the risk of Covid-19 infection.
  • Any further action that needs to be taken to control the risks.
  • Who needs to carry out the further action.
  • When the action is needed by.

Given the potential for measures to be relaxed further or indeed tightened in the event of a second wave of infection, the assessment will need to be regularly reviewed, with a weekly frequency appropriate given the speed of change. 

An exception to social distancing would be permitted in the emergency evacuation of a workplace where the threat outweighs the risk presented by Covid-19, for example, in the case of a fire. 

We are available to discuss any health and safety related concerns you have regarding risk assessment, current working practices or changes you may introduce. 

[1] ‘Covid-19 – A Framework for Decision Making’. Available at www.gov.scot
[2] Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

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