Planning a safe return to office working
As we enter a third month of lockdown measures in Scotland further guidance has been released for employers on planning a safe return to work.
What is becoming clear is that these measures will not be a short-term fix, we must reimagine the future of the workplace to allow a safe transition to office working that may continue for some time.
The government has published guidance for employers, which is industry specific, to ensure the safety of employees is paramount. The guidance acts as a practical framework to form the basis of planning a restart of operations however, each business will need to translate this into specific actions it needs to take, depending on the size and type of business, how it is organised, managed and operated.
The government has been clear in that workers should not be forced into an unsafe workplace – so how do you begin planning such a return?
Firstly, all employers should carry out a risk assessment for returning to work, in consultation with workers or trade unions, so that all risks can be assessed and managed. An employer has a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from any risk to their health and safety, and whilst you cannot eliminate the risk of coronavirus you can do everything that is reasonably practicable to minimise the risks. If carried out correctly, a risk assessment can help to identify sensible measures to control the risks. If you have fewer than five employees there is no requirement to document your risk assessment.
Employers have a duty to consult with their employees on health and safety. Involving your team at an early stage of discussions will show that you are serious about creating a safe place to work and have their best interests at heart. Depending upon the size of employing organisation and number of employees, this consultation could be carried out collectively involving all employees, or in larger organisations it may be more appropriate to consult with one or more employee representatives, as chosen by your employees. Ensuring collaboration, trust and joint problem solving is a priority will ensure the process runs much smoother further down the line.
At this stage, you may also want to seek legal advice if you currently lease your office property to determine whose responsibility any alterations might be, as discussed in this article.
Who should go to work?
In Scotland, the advice at the time of writing is to remain at home with only essential travel permitted for professions classed as essential to the effort in tackling the virus. Therefore, if you and your firm can work from home you should continue to do so.
However, it is assumed that lockdown measures will ease in the coming weeks and months. Therefore, following the completion of a risk assessment, the employer must define the safe return to work approach by planning and prioritising which workers are required to return to physical locations and when.
The following should be considered:
- Plan for the minimum number of people needed on site to operate safely and effectively.
- Who is needed on site and when – what are the critical roles for business and operational continuity, such as the facilities team? Are there workers in critical roles that can be performed remotely or are they unable to work remotely due to home circumstances or not having the correct equipment?
- With many members of the team working from home - monitor their wellbeing and stay connected regularly using video conferring methods. Perhaps a daily call to check-in.
- Provide equipment to those working from home so they can do so safely and effectively, such as desktop monitors for employees using spreadsheets on a daily basis.
- Protect clinically extremely vulnerable and clinically vulnerable individuals who are at higher risk by helping them to work from home or by offering them the safest available on-site role that adhere to the two metres social distancing rule once restrictions ease.
- Ensure anyone with symptoms of the virus, or if their household are isolating, must follow public health guidance which is currently to stay at home.
Practical guidance and considerations
More detailed guidelines and practical considerations that will form part of your risk assessment and planning discussions can be found here that apply to the accounting profession.