With the nation approaching the end of the lockdown, at least provisionally, to which it’s found itself subjected, it seems that there could hardly have been a more appropriate time for this year’s National Safety Month to have come. Despite the Government’s best efforts to allay fears, through the publishing of new official guidance and workplace standards, employers and employees alike remain concerned, and understandably so. Never has such importance been placed on workplace hygiene and safety, nor have the stakes ever been as high should there be a failure to adhere to said standards. If one thing’s for certain, it’s that well-planned out facilities management is going to be crucial moving forward.
The fact is, that prior to this year, social distancing hadn’t ever entered the nation’s lexicon. Now, it’s all that anyone can bear to think about. All of which is contributing to the pervasive feeling of anxiety that people are experiencing the nation over, a deep-rooted unease surrounding the prospect of going back to work, regardless of the industry. As a firm offering facilities management services, we’re better placed than most to make sense of the new guidelines and to offer industry-specific advice on how to stay safe upon returning to work. There are several key pieces of advice which are universal to every industry, and these include the following…
- Increasing the frequency of hand-washing and cleaning surfaces. Hands should be washed anytime an environment (an office workplace, for example) is entered or when employees touch any surfaces which could be deemed ‘high-touch items’.
- Providing cleaning stations or personal cleaning kits (everyone gets their own workplace wipes/anti-bacterial hand gels, for example). The extent to which this is viable depends on your workplace and budget, but individual employee cleaning packs for all is obviously more favourable than just the odd extra cleaning station. The point is that you make some sort of proactive change, however.
- Reducing the number of people coming into contact with one another (‘fixed teams/partnering’).
- Using Perspex screens or any other kind of barrier to separate people from one another, wherever possible.
Whilst such advice is irrefutably helpful, many industry professionals will be looking for more sector-specific guidance which goes beyond, what many people will be seeing as, ‘common sense’. With that in mind, the following are all steps you can take that will help within specific industries.
Facilities management services had a huge number of operations to oversee within factories even before the virus’ outbreak! From a viral perspective, factories are certainly amongst the most at-risk workplace environments. This is mainly due to the numbers of people that typically work within them. Extra care must be taken, therefore, to mitigate the risk of congestion. This is most easily done by implementing one-way systems within the factory complex. These needn’t be ‘high-tech’, a clearly taped out path is equally effective.
Moreover, high-use areas such as corridors, lifts and turnstiles should be more tightly regulated to better maintain social distancing measures. If your factory features heavily-used communal spaces like a canteen or break rooms, then consider staggering break times and shift patterns. This way, fewer people are using these spaces at any one time, making it easier to stay 2 metres apart from one another, and also less stressful for the employees in question. The mental wellbeing of employees is going to be just as important when workplaces are started back up, and clarity of guidance is essential in re-instilling workplace-wide confidence.
Office spaces have not traditionally been set up with social distancing in mind. In fact, very few places have! The best thing an office can do, beyond the universal advice, is to review its layout. Many office spaces are laid out in such a way that means departments and teams work closely together; their desks, if not physically touching one another, in very close proximity. Similarly, hot-desking has become an increasingly popular means of working in recent times. This office setup, it will come as no surprise, is an absolute no-no in today’s virus climate. Desks need to be spread out as much as possible and face-to-face working should be avoided, wherever possible.
From a cleaning and hygiene perspective, cups must not be shared and more regular deep cleans must be conducted. Moreover, staff should bring in their own packed lunches, along with any necessary cutlery, rather than using communal utensils. Where it’s unfeasible to bring in a personal item (a kettle, for instance), then always wipe down the surface after use. The office is the most common setting in which meetings take place (both between staff and with potential clients). Wherever possible, limit the number of meetings taking place or, alternatively, host them via a video conferencing platform like Zoom.
Of all the industries where ‘working-from-home’ simply wasn’t a feasible option, construction was that industry. Now that previously downed tools are being picked up again, it’s important that those tools aren’t shared around. Where possible, arrangements should be made for one individual to use the same tool/tools as much as possible. Any tools that do need to be shared should be properly sanitised; this includes wiping them down with anti-bacterial wipes every time it passes between users.
In terms of site access, both the entrances and exits to a site should be controlled. Sites usually accessed by turnstiles should instead have open-door access created so as to minimise contact and the number of high-touch points. Moreover, if the record of attendance is usually marked with a sign-in sheet, have a designated worker (such as a site security guard) record all signing in and out. Construction companies are encouraged to mitigate close working scenarios (< 2m) wherever possible. If all possibilities have been exhausted and essential work needs to be carried out with workers within 2 metres of one another, then PPE such as face shields, gloves and even disposable suits (in the cases where contractors are in physical contact with one another) should be worn.
Shops And Retail
The retail sector has been one of the worst-affected industries by the pandemic. Ensuring its reopening is as protected as possible is crucial, therefore, in its longer-term recovery. Face-to-face contact is something of an inevitability in most retail settings. You go into a shop, you want to buy something, you go to the counter to purchase it. Unless you have some kind of automated payment system, which most shops do not, then this traditional method is the way in which goods are purchased. Constructing a screen of some sort between the cashier and the customer helps mitigate the risk of transmission at the point of transaction.
Another thing you can do is introduce stricter departmentalisation in order to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. If you work in the homeware section of a department store, for example, don’t then go to help out your colleague across the way in one of the clothing sections. It’s all about reducing points where contact occurs as much as you possibly can. This, as we’ll all soon learn, is going to be the way things are for the foreseeable future.
The phrase ‘unprecedented’ has been wheeled out more times than anybody cares to think about during this pandemic. There is, however, a good reason for that. These times really are unprecedented. The first days back at work are going to prove challenging as we grow accustomed to new ways of working. This will prove the case even for an experienced facilities management firm such as ourselves! However, so long as we all follow the appropriate precautions, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work well. So, if you’d like to find out more about our facilities management services, then get in touch! Contact Munday + Cramer today on 01245 326 200.