At the start of this year, reports of a mysterious illness emerging in China started to break. And before we knew it, the world was plunged into relative madness as the virus spread, countries began to lock down, and supermarkets started to have their shelves stripped of pretty much everything.
Over the past nine months, COVID-related terminology has become part of a new global language as we have adapted our lives to what is a novel situation. We’ve also learned a great deal about the biology of the new virus, how it spreads, what the symptoms are, who is most at risk, and what can be done to fight it. This information has helped guide public policy and for a foundation for action on a truly global scale.
However, the guidance surrounding what businesses can and can’t do, or should and shouldn’t do, isn’t always clear. Although the government has been quick to publish guidance and get people back into work and re-open businesses, the general public and business owners alike have been left fairly confused by ambiguous information and unclear rules.
In this short guide, we’re going to cover the basics of what business owners and operators such as shop owners, office managers, and restaurant owners should be doing for their customers and employees.
“COVID-secure” and what you can do to achieve this
Making your workplace COVID- secure during the pandemic is something that you must do if you wish to re-open. The term “COVID-secure” is thrown around a lot, however, and this has created a fair amount of confusion.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, “COVID-secure” means that “businesses need to put in place workplace adjustments to manage the risk and protect workers and others from coronavirus”. Businesses have been provided with practical steps in order to do this. These include:
- carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment;
- develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures;
- help people to work from home; and
- maintain 2m social distancing, where possible.
1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
All businesses should start by updating their risk assessments to manage the risk of COVID-19 in their premises and wider business. This will help paint a clear picture and aid understanding of what needs to be done to improve safety and protect people.
The risk assessment must:
- identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus
- think about who could be at risk
- decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
- act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk
If you’ve got less than five employees, a risk assessment does not to be written down or documented.
2. Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
Employers must take reasonable steps to protect their workers from COVID-19. As it can transfer from people to surfaces, it can be passed on to others who touch the same surfaces. Therefore, keeping your workplace clean and enforcing frequent handwashing reduces the potential for COVID-19 to spread. As such, it’s a critical part of being “COVID-secure”.
The most important thing you can do is ensure that you promote regular handwashing and hand sanitising. Use signs and posters to help your workers practice good hand washing techniques and provide lots of opportunities for workers to sanitise their hands.
Although handwashing is the best way to clean hands, sink space is understandably limited. That’s where hand sanitisers come in. Hand sanitiser dispensers that dispense alcohol hand sanitiser are the next best and most convenient way for users of your workspace to keep their hands clean.
Find out more about:
- Alcohol vs alcohol-free hand sanitiser
- Wall-mounted hand sanitiser dispensers
- Freestanding hand sanitiser dispensers
- Desktop hand sanitiser dispensers
3. Help people work from home
As we’re all aware, the best way to help fight coronavirus is to stay home. And this means that wherever possible, you should be encouraging and helping your own employees to work from home unless it’s absolutely imperative that your employees come into the office (for example, if their job roles can’t be performed from the home.)
You should provide the equipment that they need, for example, a computer, a phone, and videoconferencing facilities, and keep in regular contact with them, making sure that you’re discussing their wellbeing and that they’re coping with the home-based working environment.
The Health and Safety Executive’s website provides further guidance on supporting employees as they work from home.
4. Maintain social distancing where possible
Social distancing means keeping people apart to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Where possible, you should keep people 2 metres apart. If you operate a business where having some or all of your employees working from home isn’t possible, you must take steps to ensure that social distancing measures are in place.
Some of the measures that you can consider implementing include:
- Use of protective screens between desks or points of contact
- Using floor tape to mark out work areas
- Providing signage to remind people of social distancing
- Limiting the movement of people in high-traffic areas (e.g. one-way systems)
- Having people work side-by-side rather than face-to-face
Where social distancing isn’t possible, you may want to consider additional control measures.
What if the virus enters my premises?
Even with all the precautions and preparations in the world, short of closing your business or office entirely, it’s impossible to 100 percent safeguard against coronavirus. Personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitiser, temperature checking, social distancing, and other measures can only go so far. People who have COVID-19 can still enter your premises, infect surfaces, and spread the virus, especially if they’re not showing any symptoms.
If this happens and business or office has a suspected or confirmed case, certain procedures outlined by the HSC Public Health Agency (PHA) need to be followed.
If an employee has symptoms
If an employee has COVID-19 symptoms (new continuous cough, new loss of taste or smell, or fever), you must send them home immediately. You must also tell them to book a test online at www.gov.uk or by calling 119. They must then follow the stay at home guidance.
Once your employee has been sent home, you must clean your premises thoroughly as normal. Make sure you pay particular attention to places that the employee might have such as door handles, light switches, keyboards, and phones. Use disposable cloths and cleaning equipment. Double bag any waste. If you need additional cleaning guidance for a potential positive case, you can find it here.
For a suspected case, it is not necessary to close the workplace or business or send any other staff members home unless you have been instructed to do so following a PHA investigation.
If an employee or customer tests positive
If an employee or customer receives a positive test result, then they’ll be contacted by the PHA’s Contact Tracing Service. The first contact will be a text message asking them to self-isolate and to provide their close contacts so that the PHA can inform these people as quickly as possible that they may have become infected. Those identified as close contacts will receive a text message with instructions on self-isolation.
Even if an employee or customer has tested positive, businesses do not have to close. However, a thorough cleaning will of course be required, and any workers who need to self-isolate must be supported; you must not ask employees to attend work if they’ve been advised to stay at home.
If two or more employees or customers test positive
Where a business or workplace has two or more cases, the PHA will consider this and assess if further investigation is required. That’s because two or more cases linked to one premises or business is not necessarily an outbreak and could be entirely coincidental.
The PHA may try to contact the business owner to ascertain extra information and provide guidance on what to do. This may mean enhanced cleaning measures, full testing of all employees, and other preventative measures. These are considered on a case-by-case basis. The PHA works with business owners until outbreaks or clusters are properly managed and the business is deemed to be capable of operating safely.
Hand hygiene solutions for businesses
If you own a business, manage an office, or operate any sort of workplace environment, it’s absolutely imperative that you follow the official COVID-19 guidance as issued by the governments and authorities such as the PHA and HSE.
A huge part of ensuring compliance is hand hygiene, and that’s why we provide a large range of hand hygiene products ideal for the workspace, no matter if it’s an office, shop, or restaurant.