As businesses begin to tentatively emerge from the UK's government-enforced lockdown, we turn to various official sources for direction during these still challenging times we're living (and hopefully working) through.
It's imperative that businesses look for - and subsequently adhere to - considered road maps out of lockdown as we all cautiously, yet optimistically plan our own measured re-booting processes.
It's not solely businesses such as First Mats which are preparing to return to what they do best in the foreseeable future, albeit while religiously following new codes of conduct and applying a revised chapter of health and safety ethos by which we'll all be rightfully judged going forward.
Elsewhere certain retail establishments will be gearing up behind the scenes for phased re-openings, as will schools and other educational institutes, as we collectively start to shape and determine one of those much-bandied phrases; the 'new norm'. And promptly adopt its founding principles and protocols and make it 'work' for everyone. From employers and employees to members of the public and third parties.
With a host of industries and sectors in mind (and numerous individual settings and working environments found within the substructures of), it's therefore impertinent that cornerstones regarding new, mindful working ways are stipulated by the powers that be. And more crucially, applied and sustained by factories, offices, warehouses, shops and schools the length and breadth of the UK. Anywhere and everywhere we exchange goods and services, and essentially transact and interact with each other for our mutual benefits.
So, to small businesses, employers and owners/operators of small enterprises, and where they stand in the run of things. How they're being advised to move forward with confidence, while focusing intently on safeguarding the health and well-being of everyone within their company. Together with those who might also pay them a visit as commercial needs historically dictate.
Along with an almost brand new dictionary of buzzwords and hashtag-primed words, phrases and slogans that the great British public have quickly had to familiarise themselves with during this unprecedented passage of time (including furlough, flatten the curve, social distancing, stay safe, super spreaders, self isolate, herd immunity, shielding, road maps, etc), the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has afforded us another new phrase to 'stay alert' for; and more importantly, practice. That phrase being 'Covid-secure'.
And, like with most things in life, we all know what repeated practice ultimately makes, don't we.
But just what is a Covid-secure business, as described of late by Boris Johnson? And is it something we, as business owners should be prioritising? Well, yes. With regards to the latter, of course it is.
The emphasis and responsibility lies with owners of all businesses (large or small, multi-national or start-up) to protect their employees from the moment they arrive at their place of work. Now more than ever as we aim to contain the spread of Coronavirus and eventually bring an end to this worrying pandemic.
In terms of what physically constitutes a Covid-secure business, below we examine the key elements drawn-up and advocated by the UK government as a viable response to the virus, and its potential ramifications within the context of typical UK-based workplaces.
Broadly-speaking, it's all about ensuring that a workplace effectively complies with current legislation, official directives and concerted guidance. That's a given. Failure to do so, while not directly resulting in claims of negligence at this particular juncture, will however lead to offenders being more generally ostracised and held accountable should certain circumstances prevail thereafter.
The jumping off point for any business entertaining the idea of restarting after any period of shut-down is to undertake a thorough risk assessment. The performing of a Covid-19 specific risk assessment is absolutely critical right now, as employees will justifiably be looking for peace of mind prior to returning to a workplace which under normal conditions might not adhere to the fundamental practices now required as the country's businesses systematically shore up their defences.
It differs from business to business as you would expect, that being said all Covid-19 risk assessments will be conducted under full guidance from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). What's more, consultations will also have taken place between employees, employee representatives and trade unions. Of course, transparency will also be key to restoring a sense of collective calm in the advent of a company or organisation opening its doors for business again during these times. Ergo, Covid-19 risk assessment results will be shared with an employer's staff, as well as being readily accessible to a wider demographic via the company website.
Downloadable Risk Assessment Templates
On-going Development and Evolution of Workplace Hygiene and Social Awareness
Cleanliness is supposedly next to Godliness according to the scriptures, so now is definitely the time to practice what we preach in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the changing face of the more hygiene-conscious workplace. At the very heart of every business, employee cleaning, hand washing and general hygiene mantras should be clearly defined and highlighted.
While it's an employer's responsibility to provide a deep-cleaned environment and appropriate, Covid-acknowledging hand washing facilities (including hand sanitising gels/sprays in situ), it falls to employees to maintain these new social rituals and continue to recognise the crucial joint efforts required in the short and medium-term.
Concentrating on what businesses must do in order to fulfil Covid-secure workplace criteria, and these amount to the following;
Drawing reference from the latter point, many businesses (First Mats included) are turning away from conventional electrical hand drying assemblages, and instead relying on paper towels for washroom consumption. For the simple reason that research reliably informs us that paper towels represent a far more hygienic solution when compared to machines. Such machines tend to take too long, meaning people inevitably wipe their hands on their clothes and walk away. Which on account of the many ways in which Covid-19 spreads through communities, is wholly disadvantageous.
Arguably one of the most pivotal factors in the potential spread of Coronavirus, is the policy of social distancing. In the community at large here in the UK, society has seemingly adapted well to the changes imposed for the safety and well being of the population. However these practices need to be equally demonstrable in our employment settings if we're going to keep the fabled 'R' number down. That means maintaining the now widely-accepted 2 metre social distancing between individuals rule of thumb, where possible.
For businesses, this translates as the provision of signage which clearly reminds employees of their social obligations, along with any visitors. Our specially designed Social Distancing Floor Mats are a great way to display this message.
Elsewhere this equates to the non-sharing of workstations, the arranging of one-way traffic flow (footfall) through a workplace - if possible - and only seeing visitors (ideally) by appointment.
Other ways in which Covid-19-mindful working practices might take shape include employers trying to allocate work spaces to employees who are a minimum of 2 metres apart; parameters of which can be outlined by tape. Meanwhile equipment and fittings could be re-arranged to accommodate social distancing, while ventilation within business premises could be increased by the opening of doors and windows.
Using simple floor marking tape to mark safe distances and walkways a fantastic idea, and obviously one which First Mats enthusiastically supports. Visually reinforcing new codes of practice ensures that our new-found awareness levels never drop as we re-program ourselves and our thinking during this period. Using floor tape (or paint products) to isolate defined floor surface areas so as to guide employees and/or encourage them to maintain a 2 metre distance apart at all times, is hugely beneficial as we all focus our efforts on minimising the spread of the virus.
We stock an ever-expanding range of dedicated social distancing products, uniquely designed to safeguard staff and customers from the risk of Covid-19 in a variety of typical workplaces, by way of creating a physical barrier. From social distancing mats, acrylic screens and floor signs through to the aforementioned floor marking tape, adhesive stickers and workstation dividers, First Mats has certainly positioned itself ahead of the curve.
See our Social Distancing Products Here: https://www.firstmats.co.uk/social-distancing-products
'Where possible' is a noted caveat, bearing in mind that in some situations employees could find it almost impossible to physically oblige. Therefore managing the transmission risk is paramount, which can be achieved by a number of alternative suggestions. Amongst the main ones individual employees hampered by limited space can follow;
According to recently published government advice, employers and employees should continue to take all reasonable steps to enable individuals to work from home. From a business owner's angle, this means discussing home-working requirements with an employee and providing them with all the necessary equipment to be able to fulfil the remit of their normal roles remotely. Expanding to granting staff members remote access to work systems, ensuring they are grouped in all necessary communications and looking after their physical and mental well being.
As you may have seen yourself during lockdown, many thousands of remote-workers have been staying in touch with their employers and clients via technology. With interactive communication tools and platforms such as Zoom, Slack, Skype, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet offering a visual and audio lifeline so as to keep business moving and meeting customer's continued needs. We ourselves at First Mats have been busy using both Zoom (for web conferencing purposes) and Slack (for instant messaging).
Otherwise referred to as the 'new normal' is just around the corner. And let's hope that as the UK does everything within its denizens' powers to forge ahead and get the country up and running again, businesses of all shapes and sizes contribute to the overall cause. Proving once and for all that Britain is worthy of its 'Great' prefix.
Stay safe everyone, and thanks for reading.