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Safe workplaces

Although some workplaces have remained open during the Covid-19 crisis, there are many that will re-open following a period of closure when governments relax lockdown measures. However, Covid-19 remains a threat.

Organisations should make reasonable adjustments to the workplace, introducing changes that allow workers to work safely and productively. Make it clear to workers, however, that if they have any coronavirus symptoms, such as a cough or fever, they must stay at home and not go to work at all.

Think first about the Covid-19 risks and if people can work from home: eliminate the risk by encouraging them to do so. For many workers who can’t work from home, organisations must give attention to ways of making the workplace safe, including how to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

You can make your physical workplace environment a safer place to return to with some simple measures.

Risk assessments

Make changes using a ‘risk-based approach’. Revisit your pre-Covid-19 workplace risk assessments and ensure that you are not putting in place any Covid-19 controls that make existing risks more dangerous.

Control measures

Put into place controls that follow the Hierarchy of Control. This means that any risks identified should be controlled by elimination, substitution and engineering control measures before relying on administrative or PPE controls.

 

1. Reduce physical contact between workers, and between workers and customers

Social distancing is a public health measure that helps to reduce the spread of infection. Where possible, your organisation should encourage this and workers should observe the social distancing guidance. Here are some examples:

Distancing by time

  • Phase return to work for workers, identifying those who can work effectively from home and prioritising returns for those who cannot.
  • Stagger start and finish times for workers to reduce congestion in communal areas.
  • Stagger break-times to reduce congestion in places for rest and eating. Use outdoor areas or spaces vacated by people working from home.

Distancing by space

  • Review workstations and working practices so the workflow does not require workers to come within 2 metres of each other. This may involve redesigning and compartmentalising open-plan areas, including removing desks and chairs.
  • Use barriers or screens such as plastic or fabric curtains – office furniture such as plant pots or bins will not suffice.
  • Isolate some workers to areas where they can carry out tasks alone.
  • Increase entry and exit points to reduce congestion.

Controlling numbers

  • Discourage large meetings or gatherings of people. Meetings that can’t be held virtually should include only a small number of people, adhering to the social distancing guidelines and hygiene practices, and be held outdoors if possible.
  • Limit the number of visitors and spread these throughout the day.

Changing processes to reduce contact

  • Limit the use of lifts to one person at a time.
  • Stop the use of shared equipment, unless its use is process-critical.
  • Provide additional parking or bike racks to reduce reliance on public transport and encourage driving, running, walking or cycling to work instead.
  • Use a consistent pairing system if workers must work in proximity – for example, lifting or maintenance activities that cannot be redesigned.

Ventilation

  • Review ventilation in the workplace – air-conditioning (AC) in the workplace must adequately filter out any potentially infected aerosols (water droplets in air) from one workstation to another. Ask for advice from your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineer. The UK government has recently stated that ‘If you use a centralised ventilation system that removes and circulates air to different rooms, it is recommended that you turn off recirculation and use a fresh air supply.’
  • Provide additional ventilation in the workplace – a good control if it takes infected air away from people and transfers it to a place where the virus will not do harm.

Other

  • If an accident has occurred at work, people do not have to stay two metres apart as this is unsafe. People should follow hygiene procedures immediately afterwards.
2. Keep your work environment clean

The workplace should be clean and hygienic, and your organisation must promote regular and thorough hand-washing with soap. You must also provide hand sanitiser in dispensers around the workplace and provide access to anyone entering the building or site.

Good respiratory health is advisable. A face covering does not protect you, but may protect others if you are infected. A face covering can be simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. It doesn’t have to be the same as those reserved for health and social care workers. Face masks are not a replacement for managing the risks, and workers shouldn’t rely on face coverings alone as preventative measures.

Maintain a regular and effective cleaning regime, especially for frequently touched work surfaces (including door handles, taps, surfaces, cupboards and work equipment such as hoists) should be cleaned with disinfectant. However, if this is not applicable, provide and regularly change gloves to ensure the hygiene of the items being touched and moved. Continue to encourage hand washing to prevent infection. When supplying gloves, the organisation should also keep in mind any allergies the workers may have – this will need to be considered when purchasing and distributing the gloves.

Set clear use and cleaning guidance for shower and changing facilities, to ensure they are kept clean and clear of personal items and to achieve social distancing. If organisations are implementing staggered break times with selected teams, consideration should be given to cleaning and disinfecting the area after each team uses the area to uphold good hygiene standards.

Various chemicals can be used to disinfect surfaces in workplaces. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control gives guidance on cleaning chemicals (see Table 1). Be aware of the dangers of using certain hazardous cleaners (such as formaldehyde).*

Antimicrobial agent  

Concentration

Coronaviruses tested

Ethanol

70%

HCoV-229E, MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV, TGEV

Sodium Hypochlorite (Bleach)

0.1–0.5%

0.05–0.1%

HCoV-229E

SARS-CoV

Povidone-iodine

10% (1% iodine)

HCoV-229E

Glutaraldehyde

2%

HCoV-229E

Isopropanol

50%

MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV

Benzalkonium chloride

0.05%

MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV

Sodium chlorite

0.23%

MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV

Formaldehyde

0.7%

MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV

Table 1. Antimicrobial agents effective against different coronaviruses: human coronavirus 229E (HCoV-229E), mouse hepatitis virus (MHV-2 and MHV-N), canine coronavirus (CCV), transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV), and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). 

Source: ECDC

A note on cleaning

It is important to realise how long the coronavirus can survive and remain infective on surfaces. A study published in The Lancet (2 April 2020) found that the virus lasted longest, up to seven days, on stainless steel, plastic and surgical masks. The researchers behind the study tested the virus’ life span in a room at 71°F and 65% relative humidity. On printing and tissue paper, no infectious virus could be detected after three hours. On wood and cloth, the time was two days and on banknotes and glass, four days.

The study therefore suggests that if you are opening a business for the first time since a lockdown scenario of over seven days, that it is unlikely that any coronavirus on surfaces are still active.

Source: The lancet

Once you have reopened your workplace, it is good practice to follow a cleaning plan as shown below to prevent potentially infected workers (some of whom may be asymptomatic) from inadvertently transferring the virus to others by contact with surfaces.

Your disinfection routine

Please see our workplace hygiene page. 

3. Signage and information
  • Provide distance marking on floors, especially where workers or members of the public may need to queue.
  • Use markings and one-way flow at entry and exit points and implement one-way systems where possible on walkways around the workplace.
  • Use signs and markings to direct staff and customers.
  • Provide appropriate signage of Covid-19 measures still in place within the workplace.
4. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
  • Provide cleaning staff with appropriate PPE/RPE.
  • Disposable nitrile or vinyl gloves can be used to minimise spread of virus by direct contact. Be aware of donning/removing these correctly and be aware of secondary risks such as dermatitis, so provide hand-care such as moisturisers and aftercare cream.
  • RPE such as half or quarter face masks or respirators may need face-fit testing.

Reopening of business premises

The reopening of business premises will not happen overnight. Once organisations have made their premises safe, they will need to consider how staff and organisations’ cultures can adapt to returning to work.

When adapting your workplaces to accommodate changes required due to Covid-19, perhaps the area where this will have the greatest impact is the people and the culture of your organisation.

 

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