Going back to work? – Understanding your risk and responsibility?

It is June 2020 and after three months of lockdown we are starting to see some green shoots of normality creep back into everyday life. Schools have partially reopened.  Non-essential shops have been advised that they can reopen and friends and families are able to reunite in small groups in outdoor spaces.

There is still much confusion about the rules and guidelines set out by the government on what we should be doing. Matt Lucas of Little Britain fame explains it very well in his regular YouTube clips. Comedy aside, the reason this sort of video has been so popular with over half a million views and counting, is because it resonates.

Now that  many parents can send their kids back to school they are themselves starting to consider going back to their places of work. What does that mean for their families and social interactions? What are the rules that then apply to them and their employees? This blog aims to bring some clarity to the confusion. We have focussed on the main issues and tried to explain them.

Maintaining Workers Health and Safety

Every office or place of work in the UK is required by law to protect its employees and others from harm. The minimum requirements set out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 are:

  • To identify what could cause injury or illness in your business
  • To decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (risk)
  • To take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

Up until 2020, this has been a straight-forward process.  However, since the Covid 19 pandemic, the responsibilities of employers have become increasingly complex.

Every company has now been advised to produce a risk report aimed at helping to manage and run their business at this time. This includes taking into consideration practical measures such as putting in place social distancing guidelines and measures, staggering shifts, procedures for infection in the workplace, providing additional handwashing facilities and PPE including gloves, masks and antiviral hand gel, and most importantly how to safely interact with colleagues.

Taking all this into consideration, each business is then able to make an informed decision with regards to whether it allows staff and customers back into the workplace or whether it needs to make additional arrangements for home working.

In addition, every organisation has been advised to involve employee representatives to help articulate the steps it is taking to manage the risk of coronavirus. This is key to understanding the comfort levels of staff and how far each of them is prepared to go to return to the “old” way of working.

Finally, it is now strongly advised that each business communicates its decision and clearly explains the guidelines that it has set out in order to enable its people to return to work in any capacity. This should include:

  • Explaining the changes being made to work safety
  • Explaining how ‘risk’ has been assessed
  • Ensuring that they are aware of updates as and when they happen.

What about the people?

The success of every business  is largely  based on its people. So now that you have assessed the risk to your place of work, what about your people? Since not all restrictions have been lifted, you will also need to consider:

  • Staff who are high risk and have been advised to shield
  • Staff who have been stuck overseas
  • Staff who are currently isolating due to infection and/or household member infection
  • Staff who do not wish to take public transport to work
  • Sadly, those staff who have recently suffered a bereavement

Again, the confusion around much of this is clear to see with many individuals still not aware of the government guidelines. Organisations need to have a clear policy on this, but it is also the responsibility of the individual to communicate with its organisation should they have been impacted in any way. The CIPD has provided some great guidance here.

Staff that are ‘high risk’ have currently been told to isolate for 12 weeks. This could still be set to be extended. It is important that their organisation has put in place the best possible facilities for them to work from home. In addition, once their isolation has been lifted the company also need to re-asses the risk for their return.

Many organisations have staff who have been stranded overseas. The government has recently updated its advice on returning to the UK. From June 8, you (they?) need to have a permanent place of residence and supply a full address and contact details. In addition, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Personal responsibility

Whilst the number of Covid 19 cases has been dropping in the UK, there are still concerns over another spike and additional infections. However, there is a personal responsibility from each individual to be aware of their own health and protecting others.

If any of your employees think they have contracted, have symptoms of coronavirus, however mild, or have taken a test and are positive, the medical advice is to immediately self-isolate for 7 days. Do not recommend that they go to a GP, pharmacy, hospital, or return to their place of work. Then encourage or insist that they arrange to be tested a week later (later? After having symptoms?).

It is also hugely important to inform those who have recently been in contact with any infected person, especially their place of work to avoid any secondary spikes.. The organisation can then put in place its own pre-agreed procedures. Following each positive test, everyone will also be asked to go to the NHS Test and Trace website to provide information about recent close contacts.

If after 7 days, they continue to show symptoms they must continue to self-isolate until they feel better. Additionally, all other members of that household who remain well must stay at home and isolate for 14 days from the start of the day when the first person developed symptoms.

Beyond health

 The final key consideration for organisations is the mental and financial well being of its employees. The government has just announced that the furlough scheme has been extended until October and the Chancellor has urged financial institutions to continue to support their customers through this tough time.

However, companies also have additional ways to help support their staff via their own benefit schemes and more subtly through their reward and recognition schemes. These schemes play a crucial role in maintaining company culture, a sense of belonging and keeping staff motivated when working in isolation.

Not only that, but the discount platforms that many companies have in place also provide huge financial benefits for their employees. From high street store and supermarket discounts to significant savings on home appliances and technologies. Given that many people will continue to work from home – every penny helps.

We all have much to consider

If all the above is taken into consideration, businesses and their employees have much to consider. What risks are there to staff? What risks does each member of staff pose to their peers? Has any of your current workforce been infected? Are they vulnerable? How do we deal with it?

Once you read thought the literature, the Government’s advice is clear:

  • Assess your risk
  • Make a plan
  • Communicate clearly with all stakeholders

If this is done and each member of staff knows their own personal responsibility, then the migration from working at home to being back at the office might be smoother and safer than we all first feared.

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