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.