August 20, 2020

How to Encourage Social Distancing in the Workplace

The UK Government is easing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and many businesses are now encouraging their staff to return to the workplace. But with the risk of infection still present, what should employers do to ensure employees are safe in the workplace?

Advice from the Government on returning to work is: “if your workplace is open, [an employee] can return to work but [the employer] must make arrangements for employees to work safely.”

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the measures that should be put in place to keep your employees safe, and more specifically, how to encourage social distancing in the workplace.

Risk Assessment

One of the first things an employer should do is undertake a risk assessment of the workplace. And where possible, include employees, workplace representatives and trade unions in the decision to return to the workplace.

Of course, care must be taken of local restrictions and of certain groups who may be more vulnerable to the risks of infection. More support can be found on this in the Public Health England report.   

Where the work can be done at home, employers might still consider adopting a work from home approach, amending the contract of employment to meet this arrangement. This approach will obviously limit contact with others and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Encouraging Social distancing

The measures an employer takes when returning its staff base to the workplace will largely depend on the nature and type of work required. However, to ensure employees stay two metres apart, here are some actions you can take:

  • Put signs up and use floor tapes to remind employees to keep the appropriate distance apart
  • Make sure work stations, desks and chairs are spaced out
  • Where possible, erect screens/barriers between customers and colleagues
  • Close off areas that are not essential
  • Limit access to kitchen area
  • Communicate that one person at a time can access the fridge/coffee machine etc.
  • Keep activity times/meetings as short as possible
  • Encourage employees and customers to use the stairs instead of the lift
  • Ask employees to store personal items in a locker
  • If possible, consider staggering breaks
  • Ensure that sufficient trained staff are at hand to help ensure the rules are followed

Entering and Exiting the Workplace

In addition to the above, you may wish to consider staggering arrival and leaving times for both employees and customers.

Further, some high street shops, such as Richer Sounds, are only accepting customers by appointment.

In addition, where possible, you may choose to:

  • Open more exits and entrances to the building/site
  • Use screens in reception areas
  • Mark a one-way flow system (ensuring it’s safe to queue and that employees and customers are not in danger of being hit by moving vehicles)
  • Place hand sanitisers appropriately so that employees and customers have easy access

What Happens if You Fail to Keep Employees Safe?

If you carry out the measures as set out above, it would indicate you’ve done as much as possible to make your place of work safe. Thus, you’d remain within the Government guidelines that ensure employee safety on their return to work.

Failure to carry out a risk assessment may result in your Local Authority / the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) serving an enforcement order on your business. Ultimately, this could result in prosecution.

In addition, if you cannot show you’ve made changes to make the workplace safe, employees may be unhappy to return to what they consider an unsafe workplace. They may even refuse to return.

Next Steps

You can read more about how to ensure business continuity as lockdown eases here.

For more information on implementing a safe return to the workplace, Moorepay customers can contact the H&S Advice Line 24/7/365.

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About the author

Francis Scoon

Francis has over 20 years’ experience of Employment Law and HR related issues gained in both large public and private organisations. As well as representing SMEs, Francis has worked in the Employment Department of a large regional law firm, advising preparing and representing cases on behalf of claimants. Before joining Moorepay, Francis was a Senior Advocate where, in addition to maintaining a caseload of employment tribunal cases covering all aspects of employment law, he managed a team of advocates and an administrator.

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