As workplaces begin to resume operations, one of the main challenges they face is social distancing in the workplace. Workplaces will vary; however, employers should remember that they have a duty of care to their employees. Fiona Burns, Health, Safety and Risk Manager at Croner outlines the essentials for managing social distancing in the workplaces.
How to practice social distancing at work
Employers can perform a risk assessment to help determine potential issues ahead. In many instances, employers should follow the basic social distance guidelines for businesses, which ensures that all employees are able to maintain a constant 2m distance from one another.
For example, this may involve rearranging certain workstations and if this is the case, employers should inform their employees of a potential new location in good time and ensure that they have access to equipment that they need to perform their role.
In areas that are likely to see a lot of traffic, employers should use floor tape or paint to mark areas to remind staff to keep 2m distance apart.
External visitors should be postponed until further notice and held via video conference. Workplaces should only have employees who need to be there on location.
For instances where it is not possible to maintain social distancing, employers should manage risk as much as possible. For example, using screens or barriers, staggering shift times, or offering flexible working.
How to maintain social distancing at work
Once employers are through the initial process of resuming operations and implementing new precautions, they may wonder how such measures can be maintained.
Maintaining social distancing measures at work after Covid-19 lockdown ends will be a challenge. For example, some employees may not wish to abide by the new measures put in place; however, it is important to regularly review risk assessments.
Key health and safety checks
When reviewing the situation, there are some key areas employers need to keep in mind. Social distancing at work should always be at the forefront of your mind. Key checks include:
work areas: are people 2m apart
where employees cannot keep 2m apart: have all possible precautions been taken
communal areas: how are these made secure
hygiene: have handwashing facilities been made available
information and guidance: have employees been provided with all the information they need to stay safe
PPE: where personal protective equipment is needed, has it been supplied?
Key considerations for a social distancing policy at work
One way to ensure that employers are set for social distancing at work is to create a policy, as social distancing at work may continue after lockdown for some time.
There are three main things to consider when creating such a policy:
1. HR and health and safety
Social distancing covers both HR and health and safety areas and as such, it is important to cover both of these areas in your policy. A policy should highlight the health and safety measures that are going to be implemented, as well as the HR processes which may occur if anyone fails to adhere to them.
2. Are all risks addressed?
Each workplace is different. There will be risks the workplace will face that others won’t. Ensure you take these issues into consideration when developing your policy.
3. Is it necessary?
Consider whether a policy is needed — do you require your workers to be present in the workplace? As per the latest Government guidance, only workers who need to be in work should be at the workplace. The policy should take these employees into consideration.
How often should the social distancing policy be assessed?
A social distancing policy should be reviewed every time a new Government update is released, as well as regularly as work situations may be subject to change at any given time. It is also advised to carry out a review of the policy whenever a new group of workers returns to the office for the first time.
Seek professional advice
For professional advice on dealing with any HR or health and safety matters, speak to a qualified consultant on 0844 561 8149.
Last reviewed 4 June 2020