With most people tired of lockdown, many fatigued by working from home, the reopening of much of the hospitality, leisure and hair and beauty sectors in England, on Monday 12 April, is eagerly anticipated.
Yet with these sectors likely to bring a return to the workplace much greater than the numbers they directly employ, a leading voice for safety and health at work has called for these workers and their customers to be kept safe from Covid.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the global Chartered body for health and safety professionals, has urged caution as this Monday sees the re-opening of pub beer gardens, hairdressers, nail salons, non-essential retail outlets, outdoor attractions, some tourist accommodation and gyms.
“Of course, it won’t just be those working in these settings who’ll be returning to their workplaces from 12 April,” said IOSH Head of Advice and Practice Duncan Spencer.
“Many office workers, for example, will be encouraged by the return of services and activities that make going to work in a city enjoyable, whether it be meeting friends and colleagues for a meal or a drink outside work, fitting in a gym session, popping into shops or getting a haircut, for example.
“This is bound to pull more commuters back into our cities, especially if workers miss being with their colleagues and want a break from working from home, even if the government is still advising people to work from home where they can,” he added.
“I also know that some employers still wish for their staff to be working together in the same physical space, at least for a significant part, if not all, of the time so that they can benefit from a more spontaneous awareness of what’s going on around them in a business, learn from their colleagues and generate greater creativity.”
“But without wanting in any way to put a dampener on people’s enthusiasm to get back working face to face with colleagues and clients, it really is important to stress that workplaces have to be made safe and kept Covid-secure.
“Business leaders and managers may be scrutinised closely for their return to work processes. What they say and do will be viewed critically, not only by their competitors, suppliers and customers but also by their staff and their families. It is a sensitive time, one in which very important decisions need to be made,” he added.
IOSH believes employers must implement a range of control measures to prevent Covid-19 transmission in workplaces – and not rely solely on workers being vaccinated. The Institution encourages all organisations to operate a “prevention-first approach”, starting with risk assessments to determine how likely it is that workers could be infected with Covid-19 at work and what factors are behind that.
“From there, they can introduce measures to ensure workplaces and work activities are safe and do not risk the transmission of Covid-19,” said Ruth Wilkinson, Head of Health and Safety at IOSH.
“One of the measures could be employees being vaccinated. But this should not be the only measure in place as vaccines are not 100 per cent effective; they are the last line of defence in the hierarchy of control when considering workplace hazards,” she added.
“Other measures can include physical barriers, staggered shift patterns to limit the number of people in the building at one time, one-way systems and physical distancing measures, as well as more stringent hygiene, for example.”
IOSH has previously urged businesses preparing to reopen workplaces to ensure they thoroughly plan and organise the process, using good risk intelligence from health and safety professionals. Likewise, for those businesses that have remained open, it is important to review risk assessments and controls to ensure they are suitable and fit for purpose, and that they respond to any changes in guidance and research.
The Institution has also provided timely, relevant guidance for its members and businesses throughout the pandemic. As well as information on preventing the spread of the virus, it has also provided resources around mental health and wellbeing and risks relating to remote working.
With its vast experience and network of 48,000 OSH professionals worldwide, IOSH offers business the support it needs to put in place the right systems and processes to ensure a safe and healthy return to work.