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A year after Britain’s first lockdown was being extended to combat the COVID-19 pandemic peak, the country is cautiously tracing a new route to economic recovery. On April 12th, as part of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, the high street burst back into life as shops reopened, outdoor dining returned, and libraries and community centres welcomed the public back in. And as long as the evidence continues to show that vaccinations are helping lower hospitalisations and deaths, that infection rates remain low and manageable, and that new virus variants do not threaten to reverse this progress, then the easing of lockdown will continue. The government will reassess the situation a week before each proposed step, giving affected businesses time to prepare for a safe return.
Charities have suffered deeply over the past year, and now more than ever it is crucial to ensure that you do everything possible to keep your employees safe as they return to do their excellent work.
Before opening your office/shop doors and dusting down the coffee machine/checkout (if you haven’t already!), you should:
If you cannot confidently fulfil these requirements and create a covid secure workspace then you must suspend activities there until you can.
All employers must take reasonable steps to protect people from harm, and this now includes the potentially deadly effects of catching COVID-19. You must complete a risk assessment specific to stopping the spread of coronavirus and keep it updated according to new laws and government guidance. You must identify:
Here are some top tips on keeping your company covid secure, ensuring the safety of your staff and ultimately protecting the public from coronavirus.
Keeping everyone in the loop about new safety procedures will help your charitable work to continue throughout this tricky time. But you must also invite employees to raise their concerns of any workplace risks, as well as their ideas for health and safety measures. Always listen carefully and agree on actions together. And remember to be considerate of people’s individual beliefs, culture, background and any personal circumstances when discussing your plans.
COVID-19 is having markedly different effects on individuals. People at particular risk of suffering severe effects include older males, pregnant women, people who are overweight or have health issues such as asthma and diabetes, or people from certain Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds.
You can support your vulnerable staff most by enabling them to work from home. This might involve adjusting their workflow to tasks that can all be done online and over the phone, and lending them suitable equipment to set up a home office. Consider using the job retention scheme to furlough vulnerable staff who cannot work from home. Otherwise, apply all necessary safety measures strictly and without compromise for their return.
The two-metre rule has been an iconic symbol of the national lockdown and it is still considered an effective buffer against airborne spread of coronavirus. Whether your charity operates from a shop, office or even a heritage site, you must apply social distancing measures. These could include:
When they’re not airborne, germs can still spread quickly between skin and surfaces, meaning excellent personal hygiene and thorough cleaning is paramount. Use signs displaying proper handwashing techniques and provide handwashing facilities with running water, soap and paper towels or dryers, in addition to hand sanitising stations. But be aware that hand gel is highly flammable and should be stored away from heat sources.
When planning your cleaning schedule, use the risk assessment to identify hazard points specific to your workplace. Frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, kettles, taps, fridges, cupboards, keyboards, desks, or checkout counters will need more regular cleaning. If possible, reduce the need for people to touch so many surfaces, for example by propping open doors (except fire doors, of course). Supply instant cleaning materials for staff to use on shared equipment, and if you employ cleaners, ask staff to clear their desks before leaving. Your new COVID-19 cleaning regime may seem extreme but the extra effort could save lives.
Even before the pandemic it was the law that employers ensure adequate fresh air flows through enclosed workspaces. Good ventilation is even more essential for COVID-secure environments, as it helps carry away airborne germs. As part of your risk assessment, you should identify poorly ventilated areas, assess the risks and take action. For example, keep windows and doors open if safe to do so, and use air conditioning or fans to keep the air moving. Consider banning the use of small spaces such as phone booths and meeting rooms.
Although face masks have become obligatory in many shops and on public transport, there is no need to provide employees in non-clinical roles with more PPE than they would have used before the pandemic. Your charity should focus on reducing infection rates in the workplace through the various measures discussed above. However, health and social care workers who are regularly exposed to infected or vulnerable people must wear suitable PPE.
Not everyone will feel ready to return to an office yet and some may choose to keep working from home. As your charity ramps up its activities once more, do not let staff who are out of sight slide out of mind. Check in regularly with any lone workers that they feel healthy and safe, and that their home office set up is still suitable. You should also keep them apprised of meetings and social occasions for when they are ready to return.
All being well, the lockdown rules will change every five weeks until the country makes its final break for freedom on 19th July. However, nothing is set in stone and you should keep an eye on how your company may be affected by any developments. For example, gatherings of up to 30 people will be allowed outside from May 17th, presenting an exciting opportunity for charities to host small fundraising events.
With that in mind, it could be worth checking that you’ve got the right insurance ready for your triumphant return.
Some organisations have produce guidance specifically for their members:
Information is available on the Government's and Health and Safety Executive's websites: