What is a Covid-secure workplace?

On Tuesday 22 September, Boris Johnson said it would become a ‘legal obligation’ for businesses in retail, tourism and leisure to follow Covid-secure guidelines

Sabrina Barr
Wednesday 23 September 2020 07:00 BST
The key soundbites from Boris Johnson's lockdown statement

In May, Boris Johnson outlined how workplaces could begin reopening in England following a period of strict lockdown, stating that they would need to become “Covid-secure” in order to ensure the safe return of workers, who had been working from home since March.

In August, the government further urged all members of the public to return to their workplaces, but on 22 September it made a U-turn with the prime minister announcing that office workers were being asked yet again to work from home where possible.

People who cannot work from home, including construction workers, retail staff and workers carrying out essential services, have been advised to continue going to work as usual. But for anyone who is able to do their job from home, they should do so, the prime minister said.

During his address in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson stated that for businesses within retail, leisure, tourism and other sectors, the government’s Covid-secure guidelines were to become “legal obligations” rather than suggested guidelines.

So what does it mean for a workplace to become Covid-secure? Here is everything you need to know.

What is a Covid-secure workplace?

On the government’s website, it has published 14 guides for ensuring workplaces are Covid-secure amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

There are also guides for following Covid-secure guidelines in educational and childcare settings, at events such as wedding and civil partnership ceremonies and on public transport.

The guides include instructions on maintaining a Covid-secure environment in construction, at hotels, at hairdressers, at laboratories and in offices, among several other workplaces.

In the guidance for people working in close contact services, such as beauticians and massage therapists, it gives examples of measures that workers should be following, including increasing the regularity with which they clean their working environments, ensure everyone is practising social distancing, keep doors and windows open where possible and refusing to serve customers who are showing symptoms of coronavirus.

For people conducting outdoor work or working in construction, it is advised that they either put up signs to encourage social distancing or introduce a one-way system for customers and workers.

In factories, warehouses and plants, it is said that workers should only wear extra personal protective equipment (PPE) if necessary, as “additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial in most situations”.

The government also states that people working in factories, warehouses and plants should work with the same group of people every day, while also keeping background noise, such as music, down so as to avoid people needing to speak louder than necessary, or shout, to be heard by others.It is thought speaking at loud volumes increases the spread of droplets.

Those who work at hotels and other forms of accommodation are required to let their customers know that they are only allowed to stay in groups of six at most “unless they are visiting as a household or support bubble which is larger than six”.

Furthermore, customers should be encouraged to make contactless payments, as opposed to paying by cash or by inserting a debit or credit card into a payment machine. “Whenever possible, use online booking and pre-payment and ask for contactless payments,” the guidelines state.

Workers at businesses such as restaurants, pubs and bars are advised to ask customers to remain seated when they are dining indoors, in addition to ensuring that tables are spaced out efficiently and background noise, such as music, is not too loud.

For more information on Covid-secure workplaces, click here.

What have trade unions said about the guidelines on Covid-secure workplaces?

When reports of the government’s plans for creating Covid-secure workplaces were first announced earlier this year, several union leaders warned that the initial guidelines had been “thrown together in a hurry” and could put people at risk.

The TUC referred to the use of language in the documents, noting that the guidance repeatedly says “employers should consider” actions such as social distancing and providing handwashing facilities, warning that the documents suggest individual employers could decide to ignore this advice.

John Phillips, acting general secretary of the GMB Union, said the guidance was “thrown together in a hurry and it shows”.

“They cannot just flick a switch, say it’s safe to work within two metres of other people without PPE and expect them to head merrily off to work,” he said.

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