Please note this article was written before the move to the Government’s “Plan B” from 10 December 2021 and re-introduction of work from home advice in England from 13 December 2021 and therefore is not applicable whilst this advice remains in place.
Now that the Government has scrapped most Covid-19 restrictions in England, can we revert the workplace to how it used to be?
After more than a year of disruption, the easing of restrictions is a relief. Organisations no longer need to legally enforce social distancing, contract tracing or face coverings and the Government is no longer instructing people to work from home, so employers can return a plan to workplaces.
However, with Covid transmission rates still high in the country, you should still be taking precautions. Remember, employers owe a duty of care to employees and those affected by your work activities in terms of health and safety.
Without some control measures, the virus could repeatedly rip through your workplace, leading to self-isolating staff, cancelled customers, or even legal disputes…not to mention the risk of someone falling seriously ill.
It seems unlikely that organisations can control the risk of Covid transmission by dropping all Covid-secure measures at once. In fact, many businesses are continuing with existing Covid-secure measures for the time being (eg distancing staff, wearing face coverings when moving around the premises or in lifts etc), and reviewing them on a monthly basis.
The Government has suggested the following six steps to keep your staff and customers safe as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Update your Covid-19 risk assessment
Update your risk assessment. Can you safely relax some of your current controls or not?
Think about what’s changed in your business and ask whether it increases or decreases the chance of catching Covid-19. Have you brought more staff back to work? Reintroduced bar service? Increased your capacity? What proportion of your staff have been fully vaccinated?
You need to consider staff with health conditions and take steps to protect them. This could mean allowing vulnerable individuals to continue working from home or changing their shift pattern to avoid crowded public places.
Once you’ve updated your assessment, remember to share it with your workforce and make sure everyone understands the measures in place, highlighting whether anything has changed or not.
Allow people to check into your venue
You no longer need to ask visitors or customers for their contact details but you still need to give people the option to check in so the NHS can contact them if anyone tests positive for Covid-19 on your premises.
This can be done by asking customers and visitors whether they’d like to leave their details or printing out an official NHS QR code poster to allow people to quickly check into your venue.
Note that the Government is encouraging certain venues to ask for the NHS Covid pass — or a negative test result — as a condition of entry. If you manage a crowded venue like a nightclub, this can stop the virus spreading to many different people at once.
Communicate with your staff and customers
It’s important to keep your staff and customers up to date with your rules.
Since most Covid-secure measures are now up to you, customers will need to follow different guidance in different venues. And to reduce any confusion, you should clearly outline your rules.
So whether you’ve decided to keep face coverings or stick to table service, you can keep your employees, visitors and customers informed by, for example:
displaying signs and posters around your premises
adding your policy to your website and social media
including information in your booking confirmation emails.
Update relevant health and safety policies to share around your workforce.
Turn people with Covid-19 symptoms away
Keeping cases of Covid-19 away from your premises is one of the most effective ways to stay safe. And according to government guidance, it’s one of the remaining Covid-secure requirements all businesses must follow.
This can be done by:
carrying out regular lateral flow testing for staff to catch asymptomatic infection
asking staff and customers to sign a statement that they have no symptoms on entry
scanning the temperature of staff and customers on entry.
refusing anyone displaying symptoms — like a fever or cough — entry to the premises.
Provide adequate ventilation
Fresh air can reduce the spread of Covid-19 by dispersing virus particles in the air. So where you can, make sure you have a steady flow of fresh air circulating around your premises. If that’s not possible, increase mechanical ventilation like fans or ducts.
You should identify any poorly ventilated spots in your premises in particular and take steps to improve the levels of fresh air in those spots. A carbon dioxide monitor can help you identify where the air isn’t moving.
Keep up with regular cleaning
It is believed that Covid-19 can also spread by physical contact. That’s why regularly cleaning surfaces and encouraging frequent hand washing is still part of the Government’s guidance for businesses.
Other steps to take include:
placing hand sanitiser stations by entry points
displaying posters to remind staff about good hand hygiene
focusing on cleaning surfaces that people touch a lot.