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May 12, 2020
The government and many business leaders are talking about the need to get the economy back to work. Getting people back to work is a given. However getting people back to a shared workplace is not...
Assuming the advice coming from Her Majesty’s Government and scientists is apolitical and therefore the best we can hope for, it is reasonable to accept that as a society we will have to maintain social distancing in most aspects of our lives for several months at the very least.
Until two or three months ago, many thousands of people worked in close proximity to each other in offices, shops and factories, and certainly in the larger conurbations, were crammed like sardines into buses, trains, escalators and lifts etc. To continue this situation is obviously untenable with our current social distancing requirements. Therefore the question has to be asked how can we have our staff return to work and still maintain their safety.
We will look at several scenarios and attempts to give workable advice. When considering all the scenarios there are two distinct areas of concern: the physical health of the staff if they are potentially exposed to COVID 19 , and their mental health if they are not either allowed to work or do not feel safe to travel to i.e. commute, or be actually at work and surrounded by other people. This article is primarily concerned with the physical aspects. The mental health issues will be dealt with in a further report.
In all scenarios the first requirement is that all staff complete a health declaration -preferably every day - but at least weekly to confirm that they have not knowingly been in contact with an infected person, they do not have a high temperature or an unexpected cough. If any member of staff is suddenly unwell with any of the COVID 19 symptoms he/she is to be refused entry to the workplace and all staff should be treated as potentially infected.
1. Web design company (or similar) with an office in a local business hub. Employs 10 staff within the business, all the staff use the shared facilities of the hub which in turn are used by upward of a hundred people.
Inside the office there are two options.
Each desk can be separated by Perspex shielding to, in effect, create cubicles. This will allow physical separation by means of the shielding but will still allow a degree of interpersonal connection. It is worth noting that this form of isolation may not be conducive for team working.
The second option is that only half the staff are permitted in the office at any one time, and no hot desking/sharing of IT equipment is permitted. If this option is chosen it is suggested that 50% work in the office and the other 50% work at home one week, and then the roles are reversed. Videoconferencing may be used to have team meetings at any time. We have heard of several remote working staff members who have a constant video link (Zoom) between them, to make them feel as if someone is in the room with them.
The kitchen/breakout rooms and toilets will need to be cleaned/disinfected regularly. As the premises managers, this service should be provided by the hub and the cost will probably be borne by all tenants. The hub will need to arrange staggered times for use in the kitchen/breakout rooms in order to avoid any build up of tenants and their guests in the common/shared areas.
2. Company with offices in large town or city. May employ 30 to 40 or more people in open plan offices in a shared multi-storey block. The kitchen and rest area will be within the office domain and will be only used by the company. Access to the floor will either be via stairwell or more often a shared lift.
The controls are the same as with the business hub. Inside the office there are two options. Each desk can be separated by Perspex shielding to in effect create cubicles. This will allow physical separation by means of the shielding but will still allow a degree of interpersonal connection.
The second option is that only half the staff are permitted in the office at any one time, and no hot desking/sharing IT equipment is permitted. If this option is chosen it is suggested that 50% work in the office and the other 50% work at home one week, and then the roles are reversed. Videoconferencing may be used to have team meetings at any time.
Social gatherings within the office/around desks will have to be discouraged or banned. Meeting rooms should not be used unless the distancing can be achieved. The kitchen/rest area will need to be cleaned/disinfected regularly. This will need to be specifically organised probably by the office manager, and carried out by either a member of staff or a cleaner. It is probably unrealistic to have a cleaner on how the whole time, so a member of staff or several members of staff will need to be delegated the task.
This opens up the question of whether they are putting themselves at risk…This should be manageable by use of suitable PPE.
The issue of sharing a lift with an unknown number of people raises far more concerns. It is possible though probably not practical to maintain social distancing within a restricted space such as a lift. It is probable therefore, that people will choose to break the distancing recommendations and cram into a lift rather than wait or walk up possibly many flights of stairs. This immediately negates any social distancing that may happen in the office.
There is also the obvious concern about using public transport. It is not possible to maintain social distancing at peak times on any mass transit system. It has been suggested that the Government may attempt to limit the number of passengers in a carriage or bus by 90%. Such a reduction will certainly allow the 2m social distancing, but is it really feasible to then increase the number of buses to allow for running them half empty – and one cannot simply increase the number of train services.
3. Newbuild or large refurbishment on a commercial building site.
It is a relatively simple task to attempts to instruct builders to maintain social distancing during their normal working practices. This may not always be feasible as some trades may find it impossible to maintain the distance through the practical needs of their work, and so face masks may be necessary. However it is questionable whether it is practicable to wear a mask to FFP2 or 3 while carrying out a physically strenuous task. Remember PPE is not there to create a problem.
Travelling to site. Unless site staff are from the same household they should travel in separate vehicles. One the down side, this has an environmental impact as well as the need for more site parking.
A typical scaffold is less than 1.2m wide, it is therefore not possible for two site workers to pass without infringing the 2m social distancing measure. This is not a major issue, as it is likely to be outside and both operatives should be able to face away from each other.
The issue with building sites is that of the rest and welfare areas, which are not designed for any form of distancing. Social distancing may be factored in this if use of the rest areas is staggered to reduce the number of men using them at any one time. Given the nature of the construction industry, this is probably not practical.
The cleaning of the kitchen/rest area is the same as offices. The kitchen/rest rooms will need to be cleaned/disinfected regularly. This will need to be specifically organised probably by the site manager, and carried out by either a member of staff or a cleaner. It is probably unrealistic to have a cleaner on how the whole time, so a member of staff or several members of staff will need to be delegated the task. This opens up the question of whether they are putting themselves at risk… This should be manageable by use of suitable PPE.
4. Building work/insurance repairs to a typical domestic property.
This is a different area of work altogether. The working area tends to be smaller which by implication will push the trades into closer proximity. There is also the matter of the householders – will they be in the vicinity. Will the builders use the customer’s kitchen and toilet? The same issues with face masks apply to this sector of the workplace as the larger sites, but here it is unlikely there will be anyone to ‘police’ or enforce the wearing of PPE – and ‘small builders’ are invincible…
5. Shops or other workplaces where there is likely to be contact with the public.
The supermarkets who have been trading throughout the pandemic, and now the DIY warehouses are operating systems of number control – one customer comes out = one customer is allowed in. This is then combined with one way systems within the store and protective screens at the tills. It is likely that all shops – indeed any business that needs to take payment at the point of sale will need to operate in a similar manner. Small village shops/sub-post offices will probably find this the hardest to enforce, and will need to rely on the goodwill of their customers to comply, although clear signage will be paramount.
Car dealerships will be problematic as any test drives will need to be carried out with the purchaser and the salesman both wearing masks. If the buyer drives the car it is suggested he is given disposable gloves to wear – the logistics of disinfecting a car after every test drive is nonsensical.
Anywhere used as a waiting room, whether at the GP surgery or MOT garage will need to be adapted to prevent overcrowding.
Other workplaces may include car maintenance workshops. The mechanics/fitters should be able to work within their own space most of the time. If team handling is required, masks should be worn. Where possible, tools or equipment should not be shared. The workshop manager should appoint someone to clean the handles etc, or simply instruct users to clean up after themselves (this would need to be monitored by the management in case people ‘forget’…)
Because the information coming from the Government via their scientists is changing rapidly, this information is subject to change. It has been written using the current advice from the Government combined with the knowledge and experience of the author – a health & safety consultant. He has used his experience of assessing risk across a variety of industry sectors and creating workable systems of working.
If you would like further information or help, please call us email@example.com
Fire safety failures result in £88k fine
The owner of a property in Westcliff, Southend has been fined £88,000 for a ‘string of failures’ in the home, including fire safety issues.
According to local reports, the prosecution involved freeholder Mr Arise, whose full name was not provided by Southend Council, over 17 ‘failures of management’ at the property. The council received reports of antisocial behaviour ‘from, and associated with’ the house in multiple occupation, and undertook a site visit, during which they discovered the property was in ‘poor condition’.
A full inspection then followed, which established ‘window joints being held together with tape’, damp external rendering, ‘defective’ guttering, boarded up windows, leaking pipes and uneven flooring. Further, broader issues included a failure to display management contact details in a prominent position, and a failure to ‘ensure all escape routes of the property were kept clear of obstruction’.
This was because both the kitchen and hallways were obstructed, and Mr Arise had ‘not maintained the 30-minute fire protected escape route’. Other issues consisted of a failure to inspect and test the electrical installation – the certificate was 12 months overdue – as well as failing to ensure all outbuildings were maintained, with a rear shed collapsed and ivy restricting access to the front door.
Finally, there had been a ‘failure to provide sufficient’ bins or provisions for storing refuse and ‘no evidence’ of any waste or recycling arrangements, with the council’s private sector housing team taking action against Mr Arise and a second operator of the HMO. Mr Arise, as freeholder, was found guilty of the aforementioned 17 HMO Regulations breaches, but ‘did not attend’ the hearing. The second operator ‘sought and was granted’ an adjournment to enter a not guilty plea.
While the second owner’s trial is set for 26 June ‘dependent on the on-going coronavirus outbreak’, Mr Arise was fined £85,000, consisting of £5,000 for each of the 17 offences, and ordered to pay council costs of £3,795 and a victim surcharge for a total fine of £88,796.
Ian Gilbert, leader of the council with responsibility for housing, stated: “Seeing the extent of the problems at this property was quite frankly shocking. There is no excuse for allowing a property to fail on so many different safety measures, which is supported by the severity of the fine given. Whilst we continue to support the Government’s guidance around staying at home, it is important residents have appropriate conditions to live in, and we hope this fine serves as a deterrent to those who fail to maintain their properties appropriately.”
Two men died in a road traffic accident as a result of their employer, Renown Consultants Limited, failing to ensure that they were sufficiently rested to work and travel safely.
busy traffic on uk motorway roadNottingham Crown Court heard that Zac Payne, 20, and Michael Morris, 48, died on 19 June 2013 when Mr Payne fell asleep at the wheel of the work van and came off the motorway, crashing into a parked van, while driving back to Doncaster after a night shift in Stevenage.
The previous day Mr Payne had left Doncaster at 4.30am and driven to Alnmouth, Northumberland, arriving at 7.30am to carry out work on the railway. The expected work did not take place, so after waiting until midday Mr Payne started the drive back to Renown’s Doncaster depot, arriving at 3pm.
On his way to the depot he was asked to take on an overnight railway welding job in Stevenage and, in company with Mr Morris, they set off from the depot at 7.18pm arriving at the site at 9.47pm.
The two men then undertook welding jobs from 11.15pm leaving the site once they had finished at 3.40am. The crash occurred at around 5.30am as Mr Payne was driving back to Doncaster.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) told the court that Mr Payne, who like his colleague was employed on a zero-hours contract, was suffering the effects of fatigue and may have fallen asleep at the wheel or experienced ‘microsleeps,’ which hugely increased the risk of a traffic accident.
The court was told that Network Rail had asked Renown for an additional welding team for the Stevenage job at 7.30am on 18 June and Renown had accepted the job before considering if it had sufficient well-rested employees and before speaking to Mr Payne. The company did not follow its own fatigue management procedures, nor did it comply with the working time limits for safety critical work, such as welding, which insist there should be a ‘minimum rest period of 12 hours between booking off from a turn of duty to booking on for the next’, and it did not conduct a sufficient and suitable risk assessment of Mr Payne’s fatigue.
Mr Payne was also permitted to drive, despite the company’s insurance policy that stipulated only over 25s may drive their vehicles, and heard evidence from other members of staff that the policy was routinely flouted.
ORR found that Renown’s policies and procedures were particularly inadequate because employees were on zero hours contracts, and these contracts created an obvious incentive for employees to volunteer for work when they were too tired as they were only paid for the shifts they worked. This was made worse as Mr Payne, and other trainee welders, were reliant on Renown for securing the qualifications they needed to qualify as welders, which discouraged them for refusing shifts.
Ian Prosser, Chief Inspector of Railways said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr Payne and Mr Morris.
“The rail industry relies on a huge workforce of skilled manual staff often working at night and on shifts. Fatigue is a real and known risk which reduces alertness and affects performance. Today’s tragic case shows the fatal consequences that can occur when fatigue policies are disregarded. Safety comes first and ORR will continue to monitor and take action where companies do not take sufficient care to ensure their workforce is not too tired to work.”
In the current crisis caused by the Covid 19 virus, many people are being asked to work from home. As an employer you are still required to look after the health and safety of your employees when they are working from home whether it is a temporary situation or a regular one.
Because this situation has arisen very quickly, it is unlikely you will have had a chance to properly consider any health or safety issues your homeworking staff may face.
You will need to consider such things as
• How will you keep in touch with them?
• What work activity will they be doing?
• Can it be done safely?
• Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?
Using IT equipment
Generally speaking, there is no increased risk from display screen equipment (DSE) for those working at home temporarily, so there is no specific requirement to do a DSE assessment on the home ‘workstation’. However domestic tables and chairs are often not the correct height to work for long periods using a computer, and using a laptop or tablet while sitting in a lounge chair/settee et cetera can create neck and shoulder strain.
Consider the following:
• breaking up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or changes in activity
• avoiding awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
• getting up and moving or doing stretching exercises
• avoiding eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time
if it appears staff may need to work from home for an extended period of time, you should consider allowing staff to take some equipment home. This may include specialised keyboards or mice or possibly monitor risers and desk lamps. It may also be necessary to supply the homeworking employee with cushions to support them or even ergonomic chairs to use at home.
Homeworking and stress
It is suggested you create lines of communication between staff members and any central office. There are many video-conferencing platforms available now, many of which are free to use.
There will always be greater risks for lone workers with no direct supervision or anyone to help them if things go wrong. Home working can cause work-related stress and affect people’s mental health as being away from colleagues could make it difficult to get proper support.
It is important to make sure you keep in touch with your staff working from home, if contact is poor, staff may feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned. This can affect their mental health, but will also adversely affect their ability to work.
Put procedures in place so you can keep in direct contact with home workers so you can recognise any signs of stress as early as possible.
It is also important to have an emergency point of contact and to share this so people know how to get help if they need it.
Fines totalling £670,000 for student block fire safety failings
The main contractor was among three firms ordered to pay fines totalling £670,000 after admitting fire safety failings at a building used for student accommodation in Leeds.
Judge Mairs at Leeds Crown Court heard how Trinity Halls on Woodhouse Street had only one available fire escape which was compromised due to combustible materials, putting the 27 students who had moved in back in September 2016 at serious risk.
The court heard the students had moved into the building on the upper ground floor while other floors were still under construction.
There were a string of other failures which contributed to the significant risk, including lack of appropriate fire alarms and detection, exposed timber framing, the storage of flammable items on stairwells and no markings indicating fire escape routes.
Judge Mairs described the situation as having the “potential for catastrophe.”
The failings came to light in September 2016 after a concerned father called West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) to report the building. He had been dropping his daughter off to live there, but became concerned by the state of the premises and would not let his daughter stay.
Trinity Developments Ltd, the owners of the building, admitted four safety breaches. Niche Homes Ltd, contracted to manage and let the property, also admitted the same four breaches. These are:
failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment
failing to take precautions to make sure the premises were safe from risk of fire
failing to provide appropriate fire detection and alarm system
failing to provide an adequate number of fire escape routes and exits.
In addition to this APP Construction Ltd, who were contracted to design and build the property, admitted one charge of:
failing to provide an adequate number of fire escape routes and exits.
At previous hearings guilty pleas were entered to the charges, all relating to the period 24th September 2016 to 27th September 2016.
The companies were all offered credit in court for their early guilty pleas. Acceptable safety measures are now in place at the building.
Judge Mairs said that all the companies had “high culpability” and that “the risks were so obvious that a member of the public spotted them – so they should have been obvious to the companies involved.”
In sentencing, he fined APP Construction Ltd £450,000, Trinity Developments Ltd £160,000 and Niche Homes Ltd £60,000. The three companies also agreed to pay costs. APP Construction Ltd will pay £9,000. Trinity Developments Ltd will pay £6,000 and Niche Homes Ltd will also pay £6,000.
Following the sentencing Chris Kemp, Senior Fire Protection Manager for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “This case demonstrates the importance those responsible for building construction, development and occupation have in understanding their duties and acting responsibly to take account of the safety of the people they are responsible for.
“As Judge Mairs highlighted, the dangers and risks found at Trinity Halls were so obvious anyone without a technical fire safety background could identify them. The conditions that were found on site were such that some of our senior officers have not seen such blatant disregard for the law and the safety of residents in 28 years.”