Monday 11 May 2020 7:32 pm

Business welcomes ‘step forward’ in new work safety guidance

Business groups have welcomed a “significant step forward” after the government issued safety guidance for employers to help Brits return to work.

The so-called Covid-secure guidelines, published this evening, set out practical steps for eight different workplace settings that are allowed to be open, from construction sites to factories and takeaways.

Read more: Coronavirus: How business responded to Boris Johnson’s lockdown plan

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged millions of people to return to work as the UK begins a gradual lifting of the lockdown in a bid to restart the economy.

The government reiterated its call for people to continue to work from home wherever possible, but said anyone who is unable to work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close should return to work.

For those businesses that are open, employers have been told to carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment in consultation with their workers or trade unions to establish what guidelines should be put in place.

All firms with more than 50 employees have been told they must publish the results of this risk assessment on their website.

Employers have also been told to redesign their workplaces to ensure the 2m social distancing rule is observed. This includes staggering start times, creating one-way paths and changing seating arrangements in break rooms.

Where the 2m rule cannot be observed, firms should attempt to manage transmission risk by installing barriers in shared spaces or ensuring workers are facing away from each other.

In addition, workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, with particular attention paid to high-contact objects such as door handles and keyboards.

“These are practical steps to enable employers to identify risks that COVID-19 creates and to take pragmatic measures to mitigate them,” said business secretary Alok Shama.

“And as we are able to reopen new sectors of the economy, we will continue our collaborative approach working with a wide range of stakeholders, to provide guidance for additional workplaces.”

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “This is a significant step forward in terms of the information available for businesses, who will now need to digest the detail. 

“The guidance signals big changes for the way that many businesses operate, and some firms will now need time to plan and speak to their employees so that they can return to work safely.”

The guidance applies to businesses currently open but also includes recommendations for shops, which may be set for a phased reopening from 1 June.

Other businesses such as bars and restaurants may begin to reopen from 4 July. The government said it will develop and publish guidance for these firms ahead of reopenings to give them time to plan.

Read more: Revealed: Government’s 50-page plan to end coronavirus lockdown

“Safety is at the heart of business thinking. Unless people feel safe, employees won’t return, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, harming livelihoods and public services,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry.

“This guidance will help. It gives firms a clearer picture of how to reopen safely and gradually.”