New government guidelines on social distancing in the workplace

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has issued new guidelines on social distancing in the workplace to try to keep companies working.

The government's advice on whether you should continue working or not during the Covid-19 shut-down has been anything but clear or consistent, but we are all facing a situation we have not encountered before, so are fumbling a bit.

The initial over-enthusiasm by some of the police in enforcing the shut-down, even imposing a fine in at least one case on someone making their way to work on a 'non-essential' building site, has been reined in and government ministers have made it clear work can continue.

Indeed, Alok Sharma, Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, wrote an open letter to the construction industry on 31 March praising it for continuing to work, which he said was in line with the Chief Medical Officer’s advice.

Some stone firms have continued working, some have not. For those that have, these are the latest guidelines from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, issued on 7 April, for working onsite and in factories.

Construction

Construction work plays an important role in ensuring public safety and the provision of public services. It can continue if done in accordance with the social distancing guidelines wherever possible.

Where it is not possible to follow the social distancing guidelines in full in relation to a particular activity, you should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the site to continue to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission.

If you decide the work should go ahead, you should advise staff to wash their hands frequently using soap and water for 20 seconds, and especially after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing, on arrival at work, before and after eating, after using public transport, and when they arrive home. Where facilities to wash hands are not available, hand sanitiser should be used.

You should still advise staff to keep 2 metres apart as much as possible.

You should plan work to minimise contact between workers and avoid skin-to-skin and face-to-face contact. Where face-to-face contact is essential, this should be kept to 15 minutes or less wherever possible.

As much as possible, keep groups of workers working together in teams that are as small as possible (cohorting). For example, you keep vehicle crews working together, rather than mixing crew members on different shifts.

Staff should also wash their hands each time before getting into enclosed machinery (such as diggers) with others, and wash their hands every time they get out. To help with this, you should consider adding additional pop-up handwashing stations or facilities, providing soap, water and/or hand sanitiser.

Employees should keep the windows of enclosed machinery or enclosed spaces open for ventilation and be careful to avoid touching their face at all times. The inside of cabs should be regularly cleaned, particularly between use by different operators.

You should try to use stairs in preference to lifts or hoists. Where lifts or hoists must be used, you should lower their capacity to reduce congestion and contact at all times, and regularly clean touchpoints, such as doors and buttons.

To protect your staff, you should remind colleagues daily to only come into work if they are well and no one in their household is self-isolating.

The Construction Leadership Council has published more detailed advice on how you might carry out government guidance.

Additional useful information for firms can be accessed on BuildUK’s website.

Manufacturing and processing businesses

Manufacturing plays an important role in the economy. It can continue if done in accordance with the social distancing guidelines wherever possible.

Where it is not possible to follow the social distancing guidelines in full in relation to a particular activity, you should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to continue to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff.

If you decide the work should continue, staff should work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face if possible.

You should increase the frequency of cleaning procedures, pausing production in the day if necessary for cleaning staff to wipe down workstations with disinfectant.

You should assign staff to the same shift teams to limit social interaction.

You should not allow staff to congregate in break times; you should consider arrangements such as staggered break times so that staff can continue to practice social distancing when taking breaks.

You should communicate to all staff that they should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more at the beginning and end of every break, when they arrive at work and before they leave. To help with this, you should consider adding additional pop-up handwashing stations or facilities, providing soap, water and/or hand sanitiser.

When entering and leaving, you should ensure your workforce stays 2 metres apart as much as possible. To protect your staff, you should remind colleagues daily to only come into work if they are well and no one in their household is self-isolating.