It’s safe to say that when you first started your job, figuring out ‘COVID secure’ protocols following a worldwide pandemic probably wasn’t on your radar. Yet, thanks to the events of last year or so here we are. After months of working from home, the mass vaccination program means it’s now time to consider how we return to work.
As a leading supplier of face masks and coronavirus rapid testing kits in the UK, we’ve put together the following advice on returning to the workplace after COVID-19 to guide you.
Coronavirus In The Workplace
Working from home came about due to the government deeming the workplace – where people generally work in close proximity to each other – a risk for spreading the virus. Naturally, getting ready to return to a workplace environment is a daunting prospect for everyone. That said, it’s something that is going to happen at some point which is why it’s vital to get prepared.
It’s important to remember that coronavirus is spread by someone touching their eyes, nose or mouth with infected droplets. These droplets are spread when somebody who is infected with coronavirus coughs or sneezes. Therefore, as an employer, you need to reduce the risk of infection with every means you have available to you.
The more effort you put into making your workplace COVID secure including closely monitoring any suspected cases, the least impact on your business it will have.
Government Workplace Guidance
Working safely during coronavirus is a challenge that every business is facing at the moment. Safety is of course the number one priority, as is reassuring your employees that every measure has been taken to protect them.
At the time of writing, here is some of the official government coronavirus guidance which all employers in the UK need to follow:
Work From Home If You Can
Despite this being a guide about returning to work, if any of your employees are still able to work from home this is the current government advice. The main advantage of having fewer people in the workplace is that it reduces the risk of transmission.
It may also be an idea to stagger the return of your employees. Doing so will help ensure social distancing, and it will allow you to individually explain all of the practical changes to employees.
Carry Out A COVID Risk Assessment
Workplaces should work with trade unions and employees to establish what guidelines can be put in place to protect all those who use the building.
For example, this could include introducing a one-way system on staircases. Or limiting the number of people who can be in the building at any one time. Open counters should also have acrylic sheeting installed to protect users on both sides. Every aspect of the building will need to be considered which is a very thorough operation to undertake.
Employers have a responsibility to make the details of the report public, with the government stating this is a requirement for businesses with more than 50 employees.
Social distancing, in theory, should be easier to implement since it’s a requirement of the general public as well as in workplaces. Though, it can be difficult to judge just how far 2 meters away really is, especially in narrow corridors.
There are steps you take to remind people of the 2-meter rule, including placing plenty of signs around your building. It’s also possible to invest in tech such as a social distancing device that will alert users if they are too close to others.
In workplaces where social distancing cannot be maintained due to the nature of the job, employers need to take additional measures. This can include installing barriers, ensuring employees aren’t directly facing each other or creating workplace bubbles.
Did you know that pre-COVID, dirty workplaces cost employers £1.56 billion a year due to the employee sickness such environments created? Therefore, keeping a clean workplace is for the benefit of the entire company. However, now COVID has been added into the mix, it couldn’t be more essential to make sure your premises aren’t a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses.
Workplaces should hire cleaning teams, and undertake deep cleaning including using approved COVID disinfectants regularly. In particular, cleaning needs to pay attention to high touchpoint areas including door handles, light switches, kettles, microwaves, taps, computer equipment etc. Where possible, remove touchpoints by installing sensor activated technology.
Also, make it clear to your employees that they too are responsible for helping to keep their workspaces clean. Providing antibacterial wipes on every desk will allow them to wipe down their desks, telephones, office machinery etc at regular intervals. In addition, place signage to remind staff of the 20 second hand washing rule within washrooms.
PPE For Office Workers
Office environments pose various difficulties for employers who are looking to keep their workplaces COVID secure. As well as social distancing, adequate ventilation and diligent cleaning, PPE will add an additional layer of protection for workers.
PPE suitable for an office may include:
- Antibacterial wipes
- Disposable items
- Eye shields
- Face masks or full visors
- Hand sanitiser
To ensure best practice, all PPE for staff must be correctly fitted taking into account any impairment the user may have. The PPE must also be located close to the point of use, ideally at your building’s entrance. A bin must also be provided specifically for the disposal of any PPE.
Everything needs to be stored in a clean and dry area that is free from contamination, to be sure that no particles of coronavirus are found on the PPE.
Face Masks UK
Face masks and face coverings have been at the forefront of preventing the spread of coronavirus in the UK and globally. They will continue to be required when indoors and it’s advisable to wear them outdoors in crowded areas, or if the user has complex health needs.
While adjusting to face masks in the workplace may take some getting used to, it is something that simply cannot be skipped. This also includes if your employees work in customer’s homes as well as the office.
Face Mask Guidelines
- Face masks should be worn correctly at all times making sure your mouth and nose are covered.
- Check the fit of the face mask to ensure there are no gaps around the nose or mouth. Loose face masks can be made tighter by adding a loop to the band. Alternatively, you can purchase an adjustable face mask for your employees to cater for varying face shapes and sizes.
- Disposal face masks should be replaced every 4 hours. Reusable face masks should be washed daily.
- Always wash or sanitise your hands immediately after touching your face mask.
- Never share your face mask with anyone else.
- To protect the environment, always dispose of face masks in a closed bin to avoid them flying out into the open.
Are Businesses Required To Provide Face Masks?
As we know, face masks must be worn inside buildings. The question is, who is responsible for providing them?
The Health and Safety Executive has updated its COVID-19 guidance to state that workplaces within a healthcare setting must provide full PPE including face masks to their employees. In a non-clinical setting, this is not a formal requirement.
However, what you also need to consider is maintaining consistency across the board. If staff wear their own masks, there is no guarantee of the quality or even how many times the same mask has been used before. Some may also forget to bring in their mask, which would put your business at risk of breaching COVID guidelines, in addition to potentially exposing others to the virus.
The best way to remove such hassles from eating into what is also a disrupted work schedule is to provide face masks for all of your employees. This gives you complete control over the quality of the mask, and who is wearing one to begin with (bar those with special requirements).
For your convenience, our store allows you to buy face masks online. Our masks can be bought for a heavy discount versus buying them individually from the high street. Our disposable face masks can also be branded to match your business, which is especially ideal for customer facing workplaces.
COVID Rapid Testing
At the start of the pandemic, getting a coronavirus test either meant battling a dismal appointment system (that was giving people appointment slots 250 miles away!) or waiting 3 days for a postal testing kit to give you the results.
However, since September 2020, rapid coronavirus testing has helped millions stay informed about their symptoms, reducing employee absence as a result.
Known as rapid antigen testing, it provides a coronavirus test result within just 15 minutes. The test is straightforward to not only take but understand, with a clear line indicating whether the test is positive or not.
The frequency of testing is depending on the business type, though in schools rapid testing is currently being carried out twice a week. Staff are required to report a negative test in order to return to work.
Rapid antigen testing kits for coronavirus is also something we stock in our online store. Kits can be purchased in quantities of between 20 and 1,000, and are suited for a wide range of business and industry types.
What To Do If An Employee Tests Positive For Coronavirus
It can be extremely worrying for all involved if a member of staff receives a positive test result for coronavirus. As well as the person immediately having to self isolate, there are some other procedures you’ll need to follow to minimise the impact on others.
Firstly, start by informing all those who have come into contact with the affected person. You may wish to repeat any coronavirus testing and monitor them for symptoms.
Also, make sure any areas the person may have been in are deep cleaned by a professional team. Such areas should be immediately zoned off until the cleaning teams deem the area has been thoroughly disinfected and ventilated.
Establish Clear Self Isolating Guidelines
Another grey area is what self isolation involves, giving the ever changing guidelines. It’s important that all management and HR have clear communication so that your company response remains consistent.
The NHS states the self isolation period is 10 days starting the day after your symptoms started. Though, if the person still has symptoms including a high temperature or a runny nose after the 10 days, then they must continue to isolate.
With businesses already feeling the pressure with the economic uncertainty the pandemic has brought about, employees may feel reluctant to state they have any symptoms. That’s why it’s important to offer clear messaging and reassurance because ultimately self isolation is one of the best ways to control the spread of the virus within your workplace if somebody tests positive.
Talking To Staff About Workplace Changes
While the practical COVID secure procedures you need to put in place will take precedence, it’s good to remember the human element too. This involves having a regular and open discussion with your employees, some of whom may be very anxious to return to work.
On a basic level, you want to make sure staff understand what’s needed of them. Remember, the majority of people have been working home, so suddenly coming back into the workplace may require a change in routine or behaviour to keep everyone safe.
It’s also a good idea to appoint a trusted person within HR or management, so staff can talk to about any worries or concerns they may have.
Find Out More
There’s a lot to get your head around when it comes to planning to return to the workplace following the coronavirus pandemic. Although the world’s knowledge of the virus has improved, sadly the pandemic is very much still ongoing. That’s why digesting the above information and applying it to your workplace will ensure your business is doing its bit to protect its employees and the wider public.
Are you looking to stock up on workplace supplies to ensure your business is COVID secure?
Mask4Life sells a wide range of face masks, snoods and rapid testing kits to help keep your employees safe.
Alternatively, if you have any questions about anything we’ve mentioned above, please contact us and we’ll be happy to help.