Covid-19 – Working Safely (3)

Implementing a Covid Worksafe plan

In this chapter, we think about the hazards and risks you identified in your risk assessment and use them to create and implement a plan to make your workplace safe. The first step is to: 

Control the risk

Consider all elements in your risk assessment one by one. For each of them, you should aim to ELIMINATE the risk whenever possible, by using the preventative measures described in part 1 – examples could include:

  • Monitor staff infection levels. Ensure that you have a clear reporting method for any staff that have covid symptoms, and that staff and managers are aware that any suspected cases must remain away from work premises as per government guidelines.
  • Introduce a clear social distancing policy that details how staff and customers should act whilst on your premises.
  • Eliminate shared equipment: create individual named kit for every worker and specify how this kit is kept apart from others’.
  • Introduce clear zoning, so that each worker has their own obvious workspace and customers have clear instructions about where to go and what routes to follow. Enforce this with bold wall and floor signage and visual cues such as colour coding
  • Close areas of congregation – this may mean that staff are not able to use on site facilities such as canteens if you are not able to provide adequate space for social distancing.
  • Outsource elements of production if you cannot safely undertake them in-house.
  • Quarantine non-perishable items that come into your business for a 72 hour period. For perishable items, you could create a suitably temperature controlled quarantine area as long as you are able to operate within use by dates

If you are unable to ELIMINATE any of your identified risks, you must take adequate steps to MINIMISE them. This might include:

  • Regular cleaning schedules for equipment that has to be shared by workers, ensuring surfaces are sanitised between each use.
  • Wear face coverings in circumstances where social distancing is not possible. This should apply to both staff and customers, except in the case of exemptions 
  • Provision of shields between workspaces if individuals are not able to work at least 2m apart
  • Staggered breaks and work schedules to minimise the number of staff on premises at any point in time.

Handwashing remains one of the single most effective ways of reducing infection levels, so on top of any measures identified above, you must ensure staff have regular assess to clean, hot water and soap and are encouraged to use it on entering the premises and before and after touching surfaces and objects, on top of the normal levels of handwashing required to maintain good hand hygiene. Provide sanitising stations for customers and encourage their use, particularly in businesses where customers do not have access to handwashing facilities. Our guide to handwashing best practice provides a useful reminder of effective technique.

Please note – the lists above are not definitive. It is important that you work through your own environment and processes and think carefully about the risks and appropriate controls for your specific situation.

Record your findings and implement them

Add the control measures to your risk assessment document and put everything in place to ensure they take place.

A vital part of this step is COMMUNICATION. In order for your control measures to be effective, everyone must understand their role in the process and carry it out. The best approach to communication is to start with a discussion that allows workers to ask questions and gain a good understanding of your new control measures. Follow this up with a simple written document that allows them to remind themselves of the process, and use simple, bold signage within the workplace to remind them of the most important details as well as communicating any rules your customers must follow.

During the communication stage, do not be afraid of feedback given by staff – listen to what they have to say. Their understanding of some work processes may be greater than yours, or they may have more effective ideas of how to deal with the risks. It may be useful to revisit your plans in light of feedback – working in a collaborative way that recognises the contribution of others is more likely to result in an effective plan that the whole team can work with.

Review your assessment and update if necessary

In light of the rapidly changing situation with Covid-19, you will need to monitor and review your measures on a regular basis to ensure their effectiveness. Some measures, such as staff absence levels should be monitored on a daily basis, in order to identify and deal with any unusual spikes as quickly as possible.

Observe your control measures in action. Do they eliminate or minimise risk in the way that you intended? Do they introduce other, unintended risks (for instance – does increased handwashing create congregation points at sinks?)?

Keep lines of communication with staff open, seek and listen to their feedback and be prepared to adjust control measures if they are not effective. Whilst this is a period of adjustment and is unsettling for everyone, demonstrating that staff and customer welfare is of genuine concern can have a positive long term effect within your workforce, and protect your future business.

Bear in mind that you may need to adjust your plans according to the situation in your local area. Check the government websites for local restrictions: 

Free covid-19 signage, social distancing signage
Free COVID-19 signage / Social distancing signage to help you work within current government guidelines

Covid-19 – Working Safely (2)

 Including Covid-19 in your workplace risk assessment

As we are now facing a new risk, workplace risk assessments need to be updated to include covid-19. In this chapter, we look at the first two steps of the risk assessment process – Identifying the hazards and assessing the risk. 

Employers should already be familiar with the risk assessment process, as they are legally responsible for protecting their employees from harm – failure to do so can lead to prosecution, fines and even prison sentences. If you need a reminder of how to undertake a risk assessment, follow this link to the Health and Safety executive, or work through the Safer Food Group’s Level 2 Health and Safety course for a more detailed understanding. 

Identify the hazards

Hazards are processes, environments or physical objects that may cause harm. In the current climate, you will need to consider a new environmental hazard – the transmission of a highly contagious virus that has the potential to cause serious harm to a large percentage of your workforce and customers. This could be within your business premises, or outside of your premises if you despatch goods or send people to work elsewhere.

Record this process in writing, either in addition to your normal workplace risk assessment, or as a specific document that addresses Covid-19 as an individual risk. This template, created by The Food Standards Agency in Scotland, is a great starting point if you need some help.

Assess the risk

In other words- how likely is the hazard to occur, and how much harm could it cause? 

Unfortunately, in this case, the hazard could cause very significant harm. In business terms, you could experience a depletion in your workforce meaning you cannot continue day to day business, or you could transmit the virus to your customer, damaging your reputation. In personal terms, anyone who contracts the virus may be at risk of a considerable period of sickness, long term health effects or even death.

Using the information in part 1 about methods of transmission, think about the ways the virus can enter and be transmitted around your business. As we have seen, Coronavirus is particularly resistant and robust, surviving both in the air and on surfaces; this is one of the reasons it has become such a dangerous disease.

Consider any person or object coming into your premises as a potential carrier of the disease and think about their journeys as they move around your premises. At what stages in these journeys do these people or objects come into contact with other people or objects? Do workers share equipment, touch the same surfaces, work within a small area?

In your risk assessment, write down all the instances in which a person touches a surface or object that might have been touched by someone else – whether handling stock, ingredients or finished goods, sharing equipment or working in a shared workspace. Consider all of the times within a working day they may be in close proximity to a colleague or customer – don’t forget to think about break times, and periods before work when staff may gather to get changed or access leisure areas, rest areas and lockers.

As part of your assessment, you will need to understand if some people are at greater risk than others, either because of the job that they do, or because of their personal characteristics. Current guidance suggests that no specific groups of the population are unaffected by coronavirus, and as such you must consider all members of staff at risk. However, it is sensible to consider extra measures for those specifically identified as vulnerable, as discussed in part 1. Add this information to your risk assessment document, so you remember to look at each group individually.

Sector specific guidance

The UK government has produced comprehensive guidance for various sectors to help in the risk assessment process. We have provided links below to those of most relevance to the Safer Food Group’s customers, but to view all sector specific guidance to working safely during the pandemic, use this link: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19. These guides also contain sector specific regulations that relate to businesses in England (see part 3 for links to regulations in devolved UK nations)

Childcare and Early Years providers

Factories, plants and warehouses 

Hotels and other guest accommodation

Offices and contact centres

Restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services

Shops and branches

Free covid-19 signage, social distancing signage
Free COVID-19 signage / Social distancing signage to help you work within current government guidelines

Covid-19 – Working Safely (1)

Since the emergence of the pandemic, we have been bombarded with information from all directions – press conferences, official guidelines and new legislation, media reports, industry advice… the list seems almost endless. The purpose of this series of posts is to present the key information to help you keep yourself, your colleagues and your customers safe in your workplace. 

We look at the virus and its impact on our daily lives, then examine the steps you need to take to minimise the risks it poses. We signpost key pieces of expert information that relate to specific sectors, as well as links that will allow you to keep yourself updated with the latest regulations and legislation in your UK location.

Through three sections of the ‘Knowledge’, we will cover: 

  • Symptoms of the disease, methods of transmission and preventative measures   
  • Including covid-19 in your workplace risk assessment
  • Implementing a Covid Worksafe plan

Background and current situation

The novel Coronavirus 2019, officially named Covid-19 by the World Health, emerged in the far East, in late 2019. The virus quickly spread through countries and continents, officially reaching pandemic level in March 2020. The virus combines an ability to spread very quickly with symptoms that prove fatal in some cases – these two factors have created a health crisis of a scale that has not before been experienced in living history.

Different nations have taken different approaches to managing the disease. At the time of writing, the approach in the UK is a government driven programme of guidelines and legislation, aimed at reducing contact between individuals and households, in order to reduce spread and keep infection levels at a manageable level.

1. Symptoms of the disease, methods of transmission and preventative measures

Symptoms and characteristics of the disease 

According to the NHS, the main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • A new continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

Most people with coronavirus have at least 1 of these symptoms. For the latest symptom information, go to the NHS website.

However, we also know that a significant number of people can carry the disease without displaying symptoms – described as ‘asymptomatic’. This is potentially dangerous as a carrier may underestimate the risk of their own actions, and pass onto others.

Vulnerable people

Certain people are particularly vulnerable to contracting and / or suffering serious consequences of covid-19. These include: 

  • Those who are 60-years old or over
  • Those who have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease, or are obese
  • People who smoke
  • People who have difficulty understanding the situation and applying safe practices, including those with special educational needs or dementia.

Transmission methods  

Whilst knowledge surrounding the virus was limited as it emerged, we now have access to more definitive research about the ways in which it spreads from infected to non-infected people. The virus is carried in droplets formed in the respiratory system, and then passed between people in several ways, including: 

During close contact between people – droplets pass from one to the other through air. This is most likely to happen over a distance of 2 metres or less.

Via airborne transmission – unfortunately the virus is particularly resistant and can remain in the air for a period of time, especially in an enclosed space with low ventilation. 

Through contact with contaminated surfaces – due to its resistant nature, covid-19 can remain present for considerable periods of time on surfaces, allowing transmission from an infected person to another person by touching the same surface.

Preventative measures 

Social distancing 

Because of the transmission methods described above, one of the most useful methods of reducing the spread of the virus is maintaining a distance from other people. Ideally this distance should be 2 metres, taking into account the possible reach of airborne particles.

Personal hygiene – Regular thorough handwashing with soap and water reduces the spread of the virus through touch; a high alcohol hand sanitiser is a good substitute in situations where handwashing cannot be carried out. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing – ideally with a disposable tissue. If necessary, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, rather than your hand. People who have a high probability of coming into contact with people from other households (for instance those in caring or teaching roles) are also advised to wash clothes daily, removing them as soon as possible when re-entering the home.

Face coverings and personal protective equipment (PPE)

The current WHO advice states that non-medical face coverings should be worn in public when social distancing is not possible. Research suggests that face coverings, when worn properly, restrict the transmission from the wearer to others. Some people are exempt from wearing face coverings, and if you are in a position where you need to enforce the wearing of masks, it is useful to consider a plan that addresses this sympathetically – for instance, a poster encouraging exempt people to make you aware of their exemption.

The use of gloves can be helpful in situations where objects are passed between one person to another – however, gloves can create a false sense of security and discourage regular handwashing, so consider their use carefully.

Because of the impact of the virus on supplies needed for health and care settings, the use of medical grade PPE is only recommended in workplaces that genuinely require its use.

Cleaning

Regular thorough cleaning of surfaces and touch points (such as door handles, handrails, card payment machines) restricts the spread of the virus via contact. Cleaning schedules should be revised to allow cleaning of surfaces between users wherever possible. 

Self-isolation and shielding

If a person displays symptoms or has a positive test, they will need to isolate themselves, i.e. stay in their home and avoid all contact with people outside their household. Those who are particularly vulnerable to the disease, for instance those with underlying health conditions may be advised to shield – that is, to keep themselves isolated throughout the period when the disease remains a danger. This can present a difficult situation for an employer and their member of staff. In all cases, the best way forward is for the member of staff and their employer to agree a suitable way forward; solutions could include switching to suitable duties that can be carried out from home, undertaking remote training or taking a period of annual or unpaid leave. However, employer and employee often have different, equally valuable viewpoints – in these cases the employment advisory service ACAS can prove an invaluable source of advice and experience. 

Free covid-19 signage, social distancing signage
Free COVID-19 signage / Social distancing signage to help you work within current government guidelines

How do I turn my café into a takeaway?

Despite the fiercely difficult trading conditions that most food businesses find themselves in, many have changed the way they work to suit the new conditions; turning a sit down food venue into a takeaway business is a great example of this. The CIEH have produced a comprehensive guide of the factors you must consider when adjusting your operations- we run through the topics covered briefly below:

Factors to consider include:

Food business registration – If you are not already registered as a food business with your local authority, or you plan to change your operations significantly (for instance, starting deliveries or delivering to a vulnerable group of people), you must register online. Planning regulations have been relaxed for the foreseeable future, making it easier for businesses to adjust operations.

Allergies and ordering – allergenic ingredients must be declared both at the point of ordering AND at the point of delivery. If you need to update allergy training for you or your team, consider undertaking the Safer Food Group’s Allergy Awareness course.

Food packaging and delivery bags – anything you use to package takeaway food must be fit for purpose – so containers must be food safe and delivery packaging must be capable of keeping food at the correct temperature and able to be disinfected between uses. Remember the Danger Zone from your Food Hygiene training!

Delivery drivers – if offering a delivery service, you must ensure the correct insurance is in place, and that covid safe procedures are carried out during food pick up, drop off and in between deliveries.

Food collection – consider safe procedures to allow your staff to maintain distance from customers, and customers from each other. Use clear signage to indicate what is expected of your customers

Safe food procedures – update your HACCP / SFBB plan to include your new operation and ensure it is fully risk assessed and managed.

Create a covid-safe workplace – if your business has not been open at all during the pandemic, you will need to ensure you have introduced measures such as increased handwashing, distancing between staff, increased cleaning and laundry. Even if you have already introduced measures to eliminate the spread of covid-19, you must undertake a review when making a change to the way you operate.

Communicate with your customers – there is little point in creating a new offering if your customers are unaware of it. Think about the most effective ways of shouting about your new service – and how these might differ when the majority your customers are spending a lot of time in their homes. Tap into local social media pages, community groups and encourage word of mouth recommendations from your regulars. Consider a loyalty scheme, special offers on quiet days – or something that targets a unique feature of your local area, such as a local speciality food, a traditional event or a charity cause that you can support. And don’t forget to say thank you – a personal message from a local business reminds your customers of the human element of your business.

Of course, turning your food operation into a takeaway is not the only option to try and make the most of your business during difficult times. In our latest video, our trainers Jonny and Paul discuss making the most of your resources during lockdown and tiering restrictions. They consider some successful examples of food businesses who have changed the way they work in order to survive lockdown and government restrictions. Have a look here…

Further reading:

The Food Standards Agency has also created useful advice on changing your business model, as part of their ‘Here to Help’ campaign

Can staff train while furloughed?

The simple answer to this question is – YES! Staff can train while furloughed – in fact, many employers found that the last lockdown was the perfect opportunity to review training records and fill in any gaps whilst staff were unable to work. At a time when staff are feeling uncertain about their future, making a small investment in their development can help to keep them engaged and better prepared for the challenges that face them on their return to work.

Things to consider: If someone does undertake training during furlough, they must receive at least the current minimum wage for those hours. As employees may be earning less than their normal wages whilst they are furloughed, the employer must check that this is the case.

Training must be undertaken in a covid safe way. Online training offers a remote method of delivery, so learners can access in their own homes. Courses that can be undertaken flexibly to suit the learner are useful, as these allow learners to read at their own speed, review elements they find tricky and test their understanding as they progress.

Look for providers that really consider the needs of the learner, in order to deliver effective training – for instance, those who compliment their written course material with video or audio lessons, suiting students who find it difficult to read long passages. Training providers who have put considerable effort into developing learner centred courses will invariably be pleased to talk you through their teaching methods, and present demo material for you to trial. And spending money on effective training provides a far greater return on investment for the employer, if employees can return to work with genuine insight and skills that improve their performance.

Seek a provider that meets the needs of the business too. Some offer tools that allow the training manager or business owner to track their learners’ progress. The SFG business admin panel acts as a staff training record, showing progress of current learners, previous courses requiring renewal, and allowing the business to download staff certificates for display.

A little about the Safer Food Group: our courses are designed around the needs of the food industry and it’s employees. Our courses combine clear, accessible written content with thorough, engaging video presentations, designed to incorporate the benefits of face to face teaching in a cost effective, safe online environment. Our team includes experienced food professionals, experts in education and creative tech developers, working together to meet the training needs of food businesses and manufacturers, chefs and cooks, kitchen supervisors and food handlers.

Face coverings required in takeaways

Clarification issued by the Department of Health confirms that takeaway customers will be subject to face covering rules from July 24th

Today, 24th July 2020, face coverings become compulsory in shops in England for those customers without exemptions. We already know that pubs, restaurants and cafes do not require customers to wear masks while using their facilities – so where does this leave takeaways?

The Department of Health has now confirmed that the face covering rule WILL apply to customers buying food to eat away from the premises, with the potential of £100 fines to those who do not apply. On takeaway premises where customers can eat on site, they are allowed to remove the mask whilst eating, but must replace it once finished, to leave the shop.

When it comes to employees, businesses are already required to ensure that their staff are working safely, with adequate distancing, hygiene measures and protections in place. It is therefore the responsibility of the employer to decide whether facemasks are an appropriate safety measure within their covid-safe plan, or whether other measures, such as shields and screens provide better protection within their specific work set up.

The Safer Food Group has created a set of signage for use by businesses during the pandemic, including a poster to encourage customers to wear staff – click for our free signage pack.

For the full government guidelines on face coverings, click here.

Important Links

For more information regarding the NHS Test and Trace scheme, click here

For more information from the Government about the role of your business in Test and Trace, click here

For more information from the ICO about keeping Test and Trace data safe, click here

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

Food Hygiene and Health & Safety courses offered by the Safer Food Group

VAT reduction for catering and takeaway food

Clarification issued by the UK Government confirms that takeaway food will be included in the temporary VAT reduction announced on 8th July 2020.

The temporary 5% rate will apply between 15th July 2020 and 12th January 2021, in relation to food that is currently subject to standard VAT, produced ‘in the course of catering’. This includes:

  • hot and cold food for consumption on the premises on which they are supplied
  • hot and cold non-alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises on which they are supplied
  • hot takeaway food for consumption off the premises on which they are supplied
  • hot takeaway non-alcoholic beverages for consumption off the premises on which they are supplied

The VAT reduction does not apply to alcoholic drinks, or to food that is not produced in the course of catering, including:

  • retail supplies of cold takeaway food
  • retail supplies of groceries
  • supplies of food that require significant further preparation by the customer

The Gov.UK website contains further information about standard-rated and zero-rated food, as well as further details about the temporary VAT reduction.

Important Links

For more information regarding temporary VAT reduction for food businesses, click here

For more information regarding VAT rating for food businesses, click here

For more information regarding the NHS Test and Trace scheme, click here

For more information from the Government about the role of your business in Test and Trace, click here

For more information from the ICO about keeping Test and Trace data safe, click here

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

Food Hygiene and Health & Safety courses offered by the Safer Food Group

Collecting Customer Data for NHS Test and Trace

Understanding how to gather data and what to do with it

The easing of lockdown restrictions means a return to business for many in the hospitality sector. However, this is not ‘business as usual’ – pubs, cafes and restaurants are expected to operate in very different ways in order to minimise the risk of spreading infection – including the collection of data to support the NHS Test and Trace scheme.

Guidelines released by the UK Government request that businesses where customers eat and / or drink on site collect data that can be supplied to NHS tracers if someone on those premises is later found to have contracted Covid-19. The purpose of collection is to alert others who might have come in contact with an infected person and therefore be at risk themselves. This does not apply to businesses that sell takeaway food or drink for off site consumption only.

What data should be collected?

Data should be collected for everyone on your premises – including staff, customers and other visitors if you have them. You may already gather all relevant data as part of your staff rotas and your customer booking system – if so, there is not need to collect it again, as long as you inform people that you will submit this data to the Test and Trace scheme on request, and customers are given an option to opt out of this. If you don’t have a system already in place, you might want to use our templates to do so – click for our customer record, staff record and visitor record.

The following details should be collected:

Staff:

  • Name
  • Contact phone number
  • Dates and times present at work

Customers:

  • Name of ‘lead member’ of group and number of people in group
  • Contact phone number of ‘lead member’ of group
  • Date of visit, arrival and departure times (estimated if necessary)
  • If they interact with a single staff member, the name of the assigned staff member 

Think about your method of collection – if you are asking for data on arrival, will the customer type in details on your device, or write down using your paper and pen. If so – how will you minimise the risk of transmission via these objects? If you ask them to tell you the information and you complete the form – how will you ensure their details are not overheard by another customer?

Data protection

Although businesses should encourage customers to provide these details, the customer does have the right to refuse to supply data. Any data you collect must be kept privately and securely, should be held for 21 days, and should be securely destroyed after this time period has elapsed, whether held as paper or digital records.

Important Links

For more information regarding the NHS Test and Trace scheme, click here

For more information from the Government about the role of your business in Test and Trace, click here

For more information from the ICO about keeping Test and Trace data safe, click here

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

Food Hygiene and Health & Safety courses offered by the Safer Food Group

Covid-19 Risk Assessment in Food Manufacturing environments (part 1)

Working Safely during the Covid-19 Outbreak

The welcome news that food businesses are slowly returning to normal also creates a dilemma for business owners and managers. Many have been hit with difficult financial situations and now must balance business as normal with increased safety procedures designed to protect staff and customers.

Unfortunately, a number of food manufacturers, both in the UK and on the continent have hit the headlines as covid-19 infection rates have peaked amongst staff. Risk assessments, new policies and procedures and increased equipment and PPE can feel like an unbearable burden for the employer – however, taking a responsible and safe approach to managing risk will give businesses the best chance of survival into and through the financial challenges we all face.

Covid Secure Guidelines

A quick internet search brings up a huge amount of information and guidance for returning to business within a pandemic situation. It is easy to get lost down a rabbit hole of forms and links, recommendations and legal advice. The following advice is based on the Government’s Working Safely during the Covid-19 outbreak and links are provided at the end of the article.

Work from home if you can

  • All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. But for those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close…you should go to work. Staff should speak to their employer about when their workplace will open.

Clearly in a food production plant, a large number of staff will need to be on site, to carry out day to day work. But think creatively – does that apply to all staff? Can admin and planning staff do some or all of their work from home? Reducing the number of people on site is a positive move, as long as it doesn’t compromise safety.

Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions

  • This guidance operates within current health and safety employment and equalities legislation and employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what guidelines to put in place.
  • If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and we expect all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.

Manufacturing businesses should be very familiar with regular and thorough risk assessments, as dictated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE): see below for HSE examples of risk assessments for Food Preparation and Factories. The Safer Food Group’s Level 2 Health and Safety Course offers a detailed explanation into conducting and carrying out an effective 5 point risk assessment plan; and we have given more detail about this very important process in the second part of this article. Managers and employers who have already taken this course can review their existing plans and add the specific hazards and risks created by covid-19 to ensure they are operating safely.

Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible

  • Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.

Allowing space between people is a fundamental step to minimising transmission of coronavirus – thereby protecting your staff and maintaining a healthy and effective workforce. Do you have space to spread out operations? Can you repurpose warehouse space or use temporary cover in outdoor areas to increase distance between individuals?

Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk

  • Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.

Whilst this might potentially feel like a considerable upheaval and expense for a manufacturing plant, employers and managers must not lose sight that, in most businesses, their people are their most expensive and valuable resource. Even on a small scale, absence of workers has serious implications on production and therefore profitability; the potential of coronavirus to spread quickly throughout the workforce must not be underestimated. Introducing shields, barriers and PPE can feel like an unnecessary expense, until it is compared with the cost of extra recruitment, temporary staff, sickness pay, and retraining – even in economic terms, it is a risk not worth taking.

Reinforcing cleaning processes

  • Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide hand washing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.”  

Regular cleaning and handwashing are two of the most effective ways of minimising spread of the virus. Workers in a food production environment should already be well trained in handwashing techniques, but there is no better time to reinforce the importance of taking responsibility for personal hygiene. Use the Safer Food Group’s handwashing video as a training resource, and make sure everyone is up to date with the appropriate level of Food Hygiene training.

For more information on the advice above, visit the Gov.uk and HSE websites and for further detail on conducting Risk assessments, follow this link to the second part of this article.

Important Links

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/factories-plants-and-warehouses

https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/index.htm

https://www.foodstandards.gov.scot/downloads/COVID-19_-_Risk_Assessment_Tool_for_Re-starting_Food_Business_Operations_During_COVID-19.pdf

https://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/casestudies/pdf/foodprep.pdf

https://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/casestudies/pdf/factory.pdf

Covid-19 Risk Assessment in Food Manufacturing environments (part 2)

Undertaking a Covid-19 Risk Assessment

The welcome news that food businesses are slowly returning to normal also creates a dilemma for business owners and managers. Many have been hit with difficult financial situations and now must balance business as normal with increased safety procedures designed to protect staff and customers.

Following on from, Covid-19 Risk Assessment in Food Manufacturing environments (part 1): Working Safely during Covid-19 outbreak, this article briefly discusses some of the added risks posed by Coronavirus within food manufacturing environments.

Manufacturers should already be familiar with undertaking and implementing risk assessments as part of standard operations. The threat of covid has introduced a number of new risks and hazards that need to be considered, but the 5 point risk assessment plan (as detailed in the Safer Food Group’s Level 2 Health and Safety course) is an effective tool to use in the face of this new challenge.

An employer is legally responsible to protect their employees from harm at work https://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/risk/index.htm – failure to do so can lead to prosecution, considerable fines and even prison sentences. A risk assessment should be carried out by a competent person who has adequate experience and oversight but involving workers in the process is a very good idea as this can often highlight hazards and risks unforeseen by managers or business owners. A very comprehensive example of a covid-19 risk assessment within a food business has been compiled by Food Standards Scotland , and examples of standard risk assessments for factories and food production are available via the HSE.

  • Identify the hazards

Hazards are processes, environments or physical objects that may cause harm. In normal circumstances, you would have identified hazards by considering:  

  • Working processes and practices
  • Plant and equipment
  • Chemical and substances
  • Working environment

In the current climate, you will need to consider a new hazard – the transmission of a highly contagious virus that has the potential to cause serious harm to a large percentage of your workforce if left unchecked. This could be within your business premises, or outside of your premises if you despatch goods or send people to work outside of your premises.

Write this down – either in additional to your normal workplace risk assessment, or as a specific document that addresses Covid-19 as an individual risk. If you would like to use our Risk Assessment template, click here.

  • Assess the risk

How likely is the hazard to occur, and how much harm could it cause?

Unfortunately, in this case, the hazard could cause very significant harm. In business terms, you could experience a depletion in your workforce meaning you cannot continue day to day business, or you could transmit the virus to your customer, damaging your reputation. In personal terms, anyone who contracts the virus may be at risk of a considerable period of sickness, long term health effects or even death.

Think about the ways the virus can enter and be transmitted around your business. The current strain of Coronavirus has been shown to be particularly resistant and robust, surviving both in the air and on surfaces for considerable lengths of time. This is one of the reasons it has become such a dangerous disease.

Consider any person or object coming into your premises as a potential carrier of the disease, and think about their journeys as they move around your premises. At what stages in these journeys do people come into contact with other people or objects? Do workers share equipment, touch the same surfaces, work within a small area?

In your risk assessment, write down all the instances in which a person touches a surface or object that might have been touched by someone else – whether handling stock, ingredients or finished goods, sharing equipment or working in a shared workspace. Consider all of the times within a working day they be in close proximity to another person – don’t forget to think about break times, and periods before work when staff may gather to get changed or access leisure areas, rest areas and lockers.

As part of your assessment, you will need to understand if some people are at greater risk than others, either because of the job that they do, or because of their personal characteristics. Current guidance suggests that no specific groups of the population are unaffected by coronavirus, and as such you must consider all members of staff at risk. However, it is sensible to consider extra measures for those specifically identified as vulnerable, such as those with underlying health conditions, older people and pregnant women.

Add this information to your risk assessment document, so you remember to look at each group individually.

  • Control the risk

Consider all of your examples in your risk assessment one by one. For each of them, you should aim to ELIMINATE the risk whenever possible – examples would be to:

  •        Monitor staff infection levels. Ensure that you have a clear reporting method for any staff that report covid symptoms, and that staff and managers are aware that any suspected cases must remain away from work premises as per government guidelines.
  • Introduce a clear social distancing policy, that details how people should behave at all times whilst on your premises.
  •        Eliminate shared equipment: create individual named kit for every worker, and specify how this kit is kept apart from others’.
  •        Introduce clear zoning, so that each worker has their own obvious workspace. Enforce this with bold wall and floor signage and visual cues such as colour coding
  •        Close areas of congregation – this may mean that staff are not able to use on site facilities such as canteens if you are not able to provide adequate space for social distancing.
  •        Outsourcing elements of production if you cannot safely undertake them in house.
  •        Quarantine non perishable items that come into your business for a 72 hour period. For perishable items, you could create a suitably temperature controlled quarantine area as long as you are able to operate within use by dates

If you are unable to ELIMINATE any of your identified risks, you must take adequate steps to MINIMISE them. This might include:

  •        Regular cleaning schedules for plant and equipment that has to be shared by workers, ensuring surfaces are sanitised between each use.
  •        Provision of shields between workspaces if individuals are not able to keep at least 2m apart
  •        Provision of appropriate PPE if workers are likely to come into close contact with one another.
  •        Staggered breaks and work schedules to minimise the number of staff on premises at any point in time.

Handwashing remains one of the single most effective ways of reducing infection levels, so on top of any measures identified above, you must ensure staff have regular assess to clean, hot water and soap and are encouraged to use it on entering the premises and before and after touching surfaces and objects, on top of the normal levels of handwashing required to maintain good hand hygiene.

  • Record your findings and implement them

Add the control measures to your risk assessment document and put everything in place to allow these control measures to take place.

A vital part of this step is COMMUNICATION. In order for your control measures to be effective, everyone must understand their role in the process and carry it out. The best approach to communication is to start with a face to face discussion, that allows workers to ask questions, and gain a good understanding of your new control measures. Follow this up by a simple written document that allows them to remind themselves of the process, and use simple, bold signage within the workplace to remind them of the most important details.

During the communication stage, do not be afraid of feedback given by staff – listen to what they have to say. Their understanding of some work processes may be greater than yours, or they may have more effective ideas of how to deal with the risk. It may be useful to revisit your plans in light of staff feedback – working in a collaborative way that recognises the contribution of others is more likely to result in an effective plan that the whole team can adhere to.

  • Review your assessment and update if necessary

In light of the rapidly changing situation with Covid-19, you will need to monitor and review your measures on a regular basis to ensure their effectiveness. Some measures, such as staff absence levels should be monitored on a daily basis, in order to identify and deal with any unusual rises as quickly as possible.

Observe your control measures in action. Do they eliminate or minimise risk in the way that you intended? Do they introduce other, unconsidered risks (for instance – does increased handwashing create congregation points at sinks?)?

Keep lines of communication with staff open, seek and listen to their feedback and be prepared to adjust control measures if they are not effective. Whilst this is a period of adjustment and is unsettling for everyone, demonstrating that staff welfare is of genuine concern is very likely to have a positive long term effect within your workforce, as well as protecting your future business.

Important Links

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/factories-plants-and-warehouses

https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/index.htm

https://www.foodstandards.gov.scot/downloads/COVID-19_-_Risk_Assessment_Tool_for_Re-starting_Food_Business_Operations_During_COVID-19.pdf

https://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/casestudies/pdf/foodprep.pdf

https://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/casestudies/pdf/factory.pdf