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Overlooked Risks as Employees Return to Work

office workers wearing ppe such as face masks

As thousands of workers re-enter the workplace, the focus is on COVID-secure measures and adhering to new guidelines. To provide a safe environment for employees and members of the public, social distancing, and strict cleaning policies must be in place. 

However, a tunnel vision approach to coronavirus prevention could lead to other risks in the workplace. Therefore, it’s vital to consider employee health and safety as a bigger picture. Here are some potential blind spots to look out for. In this guest article, Chris, Director of Quittance Legal Services takes a look at risks often overlooked by businesses regarding employees returning to work following the lockdown.

Is your new workplace risk assessment clear?

Chris Salmon, Director of Quittance said,  “Any new health and safety rules need to be clear and easy to understand. As employees return to work, they may be anxious about coronavirus in the workplace. In the case of imprecise or conflicting guidelines, they will likely act on COVID safety rules, even if it creates other hazards.”

“If any existing policies need to be overridden, it is important to explain the changes and give sufficient notice and training to workers.”

PPE training for staff

In workplaces that require PPE equipment to be worn, employers must ensure that staff are trained to use PPE properly. Masks, gloves, gowns and N95 respirators should be provided with full instructions.

Additionally, there also needs to be training on preventing PPE-related injury, such as skin damage. Adverse reactions from protective equipment can include the following:

  • Nasal bridge scarring
  • Facial bruising
  • Dry skin and dermatitis (hands and face)

Increased cleaning and associated risks

With strict cleaning measures in place, employers need to assess risks and hazards created by the additional cleaning. Increased cleaning of floors and surfaces can lead to a higher risk of workplace injury. Common hazards are slippery floors, slippery work surfaces or walkways blocked by cleaning equipment.

Staff may also be required to clean their own work stations using strong alcohol-based cleaners. Training should be provided to ensure cleaning products are applied safely to avoid burns or allergic reactions.

Socially-distanced workstations

To make it safe for colleagues to work in the same space, desks and workstations need to be placed at a safe distance. But moving workstations around could result in other issues such as blocked fire escape routes or increased risk of trip hazards.

Cables need to be tidy to make sure no-one can trip over them, and workstations must be carefully arranged so walkways are not compromised.

Signage

If one-way or queuing routes are added to the site, an up-to-date workplace risk assessment will need to be conducted. Any new walkways will need to be assessed for hazards like uneven ground, steps or low ceilings.

In places where people could trip, fall or hit their heads, appropriate signage will be necessary. To safely manage traffic flow, floor stickers and barriers should also be used.  

The same applies if windows and doors need to remain open for ventilation. All windows and doors need to be checked to make sure they are safe to operate. Plus, any open doors or windows that create obstruction will need to be clearly marked.

Repurposed work areas

To make workplaces COVID-secure, rooms and entire buildings may need to be repurposed or redesigned. This means employees will be expected to conduct tasks in an unfamiliar space.

In warehouses and factories, one of the biggest problems is not having an appropriate space for manual handling or having to limit the number of workers per task. Where heavy lifting is difficult or dangerous, lifting aids should be provided.

Additionally, any repurposed workspaces should be assessed for sufficient lighting to prevent accidents and injuries.

How to manage COVID risks in the workplace 

To safeguard employee health and safety, employers must strike a balance between virus transmission and other risks. Existing health and safety at work Regulations continue to be important as before, and should not be disregarded when making the workplace COVID-secure.

1. Communication is key

Clearly-defined policies should be shared with employees to avoid confusion over rules. Signs should also be used to keep everyone alert to COVID rules, while non-essential signage should be removed to maintain focus.

2. Make it easy  

New safety rules have to be easy to follow if they are to be effective. Businesses should keep things simple, remain consistent and make things as convenient as possible. Safety equipment, bins or cleaning tools should be easily accessible.

3. Keep abreast of changes

Continued monitoring is essential if employers want to make sure guidelines are followed. Additionally, health and safety policies will need to be constantly updated as the COVID situation evolves. Managing risk should be viewed as an ongoing task and business should be ready to keep up with changes.

Thoughts from the Dynamics team - its not just about wearing a face mask - utilising the technologies available to us has made the transition back to the office a lot easier. 

Software Solutions that can help a return to the office

The social aspect of returning back to the office is one of the main reasons that businesses are returning office staff. Whether this is for mental health, collaboration, training or just general support, people are general fairly social and there is only so much to be gained by online conferences. However, even with staff back at the office, it doesn't mean we have to drop everything that we have learnt over the last 6+ months.

  1. Microsoft Teams meetings and conferences are just as useful in the office as they are when we are in our homes. No longer is there a need to be cooped up in a meeting room for hours.
  2. File collaboration and chat tools from Teams, Office 365 and Sharepoint means reduced movement around the office as staff can work from their desks
  3. Booking hot desks is a feature available through Outlook, making it very easy to control who you have in the office. So, consider whether you need all of the staff in the office all of the time, or if people can come in for just a few days per week. 

In fact with the wide range of tools in the Microsoft kit-bag, there are solutions for many problems that you might face with returning to work. If you need help with buying the software, or finding ways to solve issues, please contact our team.

Chris Salmon - Guest Blogger

Chris Salmon is a co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal ServicesChris is a regular commentator on workplace injury law and occupational illness in the legal press.

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