PROPERTY JOURNAL

Post-coronavirus planning: returning to work after lockdown

What are the key areas that facilities managers should consider in their return to work strategy?

Author: Ken Smith

02 September 2020

As the UK eases its way out of the coronavirus lockdown, many facilities managers are preparing to safely restart their operations following months of restrictions. Yet, far from going back to business as usual, employers are now required to implement robust health and safety standards before employees are allowed to return to work.

With many businesses already struggling with the sheer scale and complexity of the work this entails, navigating conflicting advice and government guidance on how best to prevent COVID-19 transmission in the workplace presents another challenge.

Guidelines focus on five key points; work from home if you can, carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with workers or trade unions, maintain social distancing, and manage transmission risk, all of which must be supported with more stringent cleaning processes.

As such, return to work strategies will no doubt be in full force for many companies as they consider how to safely resume their business operations with appropriate health, safety, and hygiene measures in place to protect both their employees and their clients.

However, safely restarting business amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic remains unchartered territory for many, with conflicting advice on how best to prevent COVID-19 transmission in the workplace presenting a real challenge.

It’s important that facilities managers take the time now to implement best practice measures, as this could make all the difference to workforce safety, profitability and ultimately, business survival.

"Safely restarting business amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic remains unchartered territory"
Back to basics

Creating an effective return-to-work strategy may be a daunting task for many organisations. However, from our experience in business continuity and compliance, every strategy should focus on four key areas; process, hygiene, people and facilities.

In terms of process, it’s a case of creating and defining measures, procedures and policies that reflect the world we now live in. Does your workplace have the current hygiene, disinfectant and cleaning procedures in place to mitigate COVID-19 transmission?

When it comes to social distancing, best practice is to consider avoiding hot-desking, extending home-working, introducing staggered starts or variable shift patterns to minimise the level of essential staff required on site. Other measures that have been used around the world include requiring staff to have their temperature taken before being allowed on site.

With personal protective equipment (PPE) a hot potato across the political spectrum, many employers are being urged by the government to carefully consider the level required to adequately protect employees so that private sector businesses are not competing with the NHS for supply.

Another key factor to consider is introducing employee-specific risk assessments, which may entail medically profiling employees and customers on conditions that could put them at higher risk of coronavirus-related complications.  Due to its personally and legally sensitive nature, an employee risk assessment will need to be handled carefully and thoughtfully.

After risk assessments have been undertaken and appropriate action implemented, the government has stipulated that statements declaring a workplace ‘COVID secure’ must be made public on a business’s premises and website.

"It’s a case of creating and defining measures, procedures and policies that reflect the world we now live in"
Sector-specific guidelines

The natural next step will be to look at reopening sites, which is where complications may arise. Although the government’s guidelines are focused on working environments, these require facilities managers to have a better understanding of the occupational use of buildings. 

Plotting out logistics, deliveries, lift usage, desk spacing and the hygiene of frequently used touchpoints, and assessing how each of these features are managed will stand duty holders in good stead for resuming operations.

Implementing social distancing will also depend on whether the layout and size of the site can accommodate measures, which may include splitting up premises with a one-way system, only allowing one person at a time into shared toilet facilities, and widespread use of doorstops to prevent surface touching.

Implementing social distancing will also depend on whether the layout and size of the site can accommodate measures, which may include splitting up premises with a one-way system, only allowing one person at a time into shared toilet facilities, and widespread use of doorstops to prevent surface touching.

For companies with multiple sites across the country, it is advised such processes are trialled across a small number of pilot sites to assess their effectiveness, before rolling out to the remaining sites.

Other key considerations include water, lift or electrical systems that will not have been in use for months will need to be reviewed to ensure they comply with the latest safety standards and for instance, the prevention of Legionnaire’s disease. Maintaining other accredited certifications is also key and can now be done via remote auditing in some cases.

Engaging hearts and minds

It’s important to note that given the complete overhaul of operations required to make workplaces ‘COVID secure’, success will depend on an employer’s ability to win the hearts and minds of its employees. This will ensure they are empowered and committed to preventing coronavirus transmission and must be underpinned by clear policy, systems and processes with regular monitoring.

To achieve this, businesses are advised to introduce measures in consultation and consensus with staff, have regular communication and active engagement on whether these are effective as well as creating a system that encourages staff to come forward and voice concerns if at any point they feel unsafe at work. Indeed, the government guidance advocates this approach, requiring employers to share the results of their COVID-19 risk assessment with their workforce and on their website.

It’s all about geography

From our work with multinational organisations, we’ve found that one of the key challenges many are currently facing is deciphering conflicting advice on appropriate health and safety measures required in the workplace.

The wearing of face masks is one such example. France, Italy and Spain have all made it compulsory to wear face masks in varying situations, with England mandating them in shops for most people in July. However the World Health Organization (WHO) initially suggested people should wear protective masks only if they are sick and showing symptoms, or if they are caring for people suspected to have COVID-19, but moved towards advising their use in public spaces.

With many nations around the world having their own policies, regulations and standards on managing coronavirus risks, it is very difficult for multinational organisations to create a unified approach.

In such cases, the value of seeking independent assurance on back-to-work policies and procedures will be key to achieving compliance in line with guidance and good practice from bodies such as WHO, Health and Safety Executive and Public Health England.

"One of the key challenges many are currently facing is deciphering conflicting advice on appropriate health and safety measures"
Post-coronavirus planning

Given the sheer scale and complexity of the work required to resume operations during this global pandemic, it’s no surprise that many firms will be struggling to understand what is the best way forward.  

However, there is a wealth of support out there from industry experts with independent assessment available from numerous services. As we continue to move ahead during this period of great uncertainty, independent assurance will no doubt go a long way in ensuring firms can get back to business as quickly as possible while adequately protecting staff and customers. Ultimately, this will not only help to save lives, but also mean organisations are better-positioned to thrive in a post-coronavirus world.

www.bureauveritas.co.uk

Related competencies include: Facilities management, Health and safety

RICS Office Reopening Guidelines

 

Related Topics

Social Sharing

Related Articles

PROPERTY JOURNAL

go to article Digital twins: a new view of assets and portfolios

PROPERTY JOURNAL

go to article Preventing Legionnaire's disease

PROPERTY JOURNAL

go to article What does 'experience' mean in the workplace?

This website uses cookies to collect information about your browsing session. By collecting this information, we learn how to best tailor this site to you.  To learn more, view our 

Cookie Policy.