Government set to release back to work guidance

The UK Government is planning on publishing guidance on how businesses can safely return to work following the COVID-19 lockdown, although they are still advising office staff to work from home when possible.

By the weekend, the plan is to produce 10 papers that provide guidance on how to start office-based work once again. The papers are being prepared by Ernst & Young for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Alok Sharma, the business secretary will be publishing these papers. These reports will explain how to work in a safe environment and how to maintain social distancing. Especially, where you work in an area that is usually densely populated, like factories and offices.

The advice is expected to restrict or remove access to communal areas such as canteens, increase the use of hand sanitiser and prevent employees from working face-to-face.

Paul Verrico, a partner in the environment and health a safety team at law firm Eversheds Sutherland, made an important point regarding office plumbing and said:

The re-start strategy is not as simple as unlocking the front door. The outbreak has left many buildings with minimal or even no occupancy; this can give rise to a threat of Legionella bacteria building up in stagnant water within buildings, which can have a significant health risk upon reoccupation.

Businesses should consider water system cleaning and disinfection, and controlled flushing to mitigate the risk of prolonged stagnation of water. A comprehensive review will assess risks that any surveys or inspections of premises are completed safely, and where necessary, provide PPE as the bacteria when disturbed can become airborne. Sampling of the system is recommended to assist in determining the extent of any issues within the water system to ensure the correct remedial measures are implemented.

Rachel Suff, senior employee relations adviser at the CIPD said:

Every employer has to be thinking in detail about every role, every worker, every workplace scenario and what it means in terms of implementing those safety and hygiene measures set out by the Government.

Michael Gove, minister for the Cabinet Office outlined possibly lifting restrictions in “island communities” first to see what happens first on a smaller scale.

Mr Gove said:

It is preferable if we end the lockdown as one United Kingdom. But there is a specific scientific justification for saying that island communities can be areas where you could pilot some measures, contact tracing in particular, in order to combine that with relaxing measures at a progressively greater rate. That can help you judge what is right for the country overall.