The government has updated its series of guidance notes on working safely during COVID-19 to reflect the changes taking place on Monday 19 July in England.
There are 11 separate guides:
- schools, further education and childcare providers
- wedding and civil partnership ceremonies, receptions and celebrations
- construction and outdoor work
- events and attractions
- hotels and guest accommodation
- offices, factories and labs
- restaurants, pubs, bars, nightclubs and takeaways
- shops, branches and close contact services
The government is asking organisations to take 'sensible precautions' to manage risk and support staff and customers now most of legal requirements in place to reduce the spread of the virus have been removed.
There are some general themes.
COVID-19 is an air-borne disease and the most effective way to reduce it spreading is to maximise the supply of fresh air in your premises. It recommends that you do this through:
- fully or partially opening windows, air vents and doors to improve natural ventilation
- using mechanical ventilation systems which draw on the supply of fresh air and avoid those that simply recirculate existing air
- encouraging people to use outside space where practical
The HSE has also updated its advice on ventilation. It recommends that, as part of your risk assessments, you use a CO2 monitor to check levels (unless you have a air cleaning system in place). The higher the CO2 count, the more likely it is that you don't have enough ventilation. The HSE include a table which sets out the suitability of CO2 monitoring in different types of space which has been lifted from a paper by SAGE.
The HSE state that CO2 measurements should be used as a broad guide to ventilation within a space rather than treating them as ’safe thresholds’. In other words, don't become complacent just because your initial readings were good. Continue to monitor CO2 and take all reasonable steps to increase air flow.
It states that if you do identify an area which is poorly ventilated, you need to decide if it's safe for people to work/use that area until you have made changes. If it's not safe, then you shouldn't ask them to return to work unless there is somewhere else which is safe for them to work.
The other important thing to note, particularly as we are going through heatwave, is that you shouldn't use desk or ceiling fans in poorly ventilated areas. However, if you already have an air conditioning unit you should be okay to use it providing it draws in a supply of fresh air.
The language of social distancing has gone, but the government is still recommending that you reduce contact between people, including interaction between customers and workers. It suggests that you continue to use 'fixed teams' or 'cohorts' to minimise interaction between different groups of workers. And, if possible, it recommends that people work back to back or side to side.
The government is encouraging workers and customers/clients to continue to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces.
It also wants organisations to continue to thoroughly clean their premises, provide good handwashing facilities (including soap and hand sanitiser) and encourage their staff to follow basic hygiene standards.
You should also provide extra non-recycling bins for workers and visitors to dispose of single use face coverings and PPE.
Returning to work
Those organisations that have allowed their staff to work from home are encouraged to allow them to 'gradually return'. Members of staff who are at higher risk and/or clinically extremely vulnerable should discuss any concerns they have about returning to work with you. In turn you are asked to 'support them in taking additional precautions advised by their clinicians'. That could mean allowing them to remain at home whilst infection rates are high.
You must continue to send people home who develop symptoms or who are asked to self-isolate by NHS test and trace.
However, from Monday 16 August, new rules apply which, effectively, exempt anyone (aged 18 or over) who has received both vaccinations in the UK from having to self-isolate simply because they've been in close contact with someone with the virus. Anyone who receives their second vaccination shortly before being asked to self-isolate will have to wait two weeks from the date of their second injection before they can remain in work.
NHS test and trace will advise anyone who has been in close contact with someone who tests positive to book a PCR test. You should encourage your staff to do this to prevent asymptomatic infections.
Anyone who has symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate for at least 10 days even if they have been double vaccinated.
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