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Perspectives

Helping small businesses to safely reopen their offices after lockdown

Safely reopening offices

Safely re-opening offices after lockdown has intimidating implications for many small businesses. On the 12th May the UK Government provided guidelines requiring organisations with over five staff to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment, which should be done as soon as possible and in consultation with HSE representatives and staff.

This article explains the key themes of the government’s guidelines and provides best practice actions for small businesses to help them cost-effectively comply. We have organised the advice under the four H’s: Hygiene, Hours, Horizontal separation and Home working.

It’s a good idea to appoint a Project Manager and roll out the changes at once as the ‘new normal’ way of working.

1. Hygiene

As the starting point for COVID-19 office safety, organisations are increasing their hygiene with hand wash, hand sanitisers and more frequent and thorough cleaning and sanitising/disinfection. Face masks and tissues should also be provided – along with more regular emptying of the bins into which they are disposed.

Signage helps to remind staff how to maintain COVID-19 office hygiene standards.

Keeping windows open will increase the air exchange rate and keep the air as clean as possible.

Some organisations are checking staff temperatures as they arrive at work so they can be sent home prior to entering the workplace. Recording temperatures, along with work attendance, is also a good idea for tracking and tracing infection. Clear protocols must be in place for dealing with high temperature/symptomatic staff.

2. Hours

Staggering start times and break times ensure that staff are not all arriving, leaving or flooding the kitchen at the same time. It also minimises queues at the entrance while temperature checking, hand sanitising, donning of masks and signing in occur.

Staggering hours also helps staff to avoid transport peak times, which reduces travel times on congested roads and better enables social distancing on public transport.

3. Horizontal Separation

There are a wide array of methods being adopted to achieve social distancing in the office, including:

  • Only having a percentage of staff back in the office
  • Instructing staff to not use conventional tactile greetings
  • Using every second desk (enforced by taping off or removing the intermediate desks)
  • Reorienting desks to face walls instead of staff facing each other
  • Using meeting rooms as offices (organisations should have a no visitor policy so meeting rooms should not be needed for external meetings)
  • Online meetings
  • Spacing out tables and reducing the number of chairs in kitchens, canteens and breakout areas
  • Encourage staff to eat at their desks
  • Increasing the size, seating spacing and butt receptacle spacing in smoking areas
  • Opening more doors for staff access and egress
  • Establishing one-way routes, for example with floor arrows
  • Using visual separation cues like lines 2m apart in front of the coffee machine, fridge, photocopiers and other equipment
  • Buying more equipment to avoid queues of users
  • Establishing a queuing system for congregation or pinch points in an office with clear signage (e.g. toilets, locker areas, kitchens)
  • Encouraging the use of stairs
  • Reducing the maximum occupancy of lifts
  • Increasing parking for staff cars and bike racks to enable cycling to work

A range of screen products are now on the market that can stop the transmission of droplets containing the virus within the office. Note that these are not a sustainable solution – using petrochemicals to create acrylic that will be disposed of at the end of the COVD-19 crisis. The government notes that screens should only be used to mitigate risk only if social distancing cannot be achieved.

4. Home working

Working from home remains the best way to shield staff. And, of course, fewer staff in the office creates more space for those who do attend. Employers need to also recognise that some staff rely on public transport and may therefore be coming into close contact with others while commuting.

To work productively and comfortably at home, staff should have, as a minimum, an ergonomically adjustable chair with arms, and a screen height just below eye level (see 5 Tips for Home Office Productivity).

It should be noted that employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. At Rype Office, we have set up a new service to help set employees up for long term home working.

We are partnering with expert and independent third party DSE assessors to identify risks. We will then audit, redeploy and track an organisation’s existing office furniture and equipment, remanufacturing where required. Additionally, we can provide low-cost and sustainable remanufactured furniture and electronics from our stock.

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