How to introduce social distancing in the workplace

08 July 2020

With the government easing lockdown measures in England, many businesses are now starting to reopen—or return more employees to daily operations.  

But, remember, coronavirus isn’t gone—it’s still amongst us. So, we have to take precautionary steps to ensure colleagues and customers aren’t infected.

As a health & safety requirement, social distancing at work is essential for the months ahead. And it’s one of the best methods you can use to avoid infection spreading.

To help you with your return, we have back to work after coronavirus advice you can read. You can also contact us on 0800 028 2420 for quick answers to your questions.

And you can read this guide for insights into how a two-metre rule can help your business.

Social distancing guidelines for businesses

The UK government has provided specific advice on this health & safety stance. There are five steps for your entire post-lockdown approach. These are:

  1. Carry out a coronavirus risk assessment at your workplace.
  2. Develop a thorough cleaning and hygiene procedure.
  3. Allow staff to work from home, if they can.
  4. Promote a social distancing policy.
  5. If you can’t do that, establish procedures to manage the risk of infection.

Right, let’s take a closer look into how you can ensure your employees, customers, and staff respect the procedures you put in place.

How to maintain social distancing at work

For step four from the above list, that means you must look at ensuring there’s a two-metre gap between employees. That’s where possible. Otherwise there’s a one metre+ with mitigation tactics, such as side-by-side working. Or Perspex screens to create a divide.

There are set ways you can go about achieving social distancing at work after lockdown. These are the most common techniques:

  • Update and train employees with what your business’ specific requirements will be. After conducting a risk assessment, you’ll understand what you need to do.
  • Place signs around your working environment for your staff, customers, and any other visitors.
  • Use tape on the floor to identify what a two-metre gap is—this’ll help staff understand the distances they must leave.
  • Set up a one-way system through your workplace—where possible. For example, use one stairwell for heading upstairs only, another for heading downstairs only.
  • Use an appointment system for any visitors. But you should discourage any visitors, unless it’s essential (such as if it’s for building maintenance).
  • For customers, only allow a set number in a location at any given time.

For many businesses, these will present a challenge—and one that may seem an unnecessary requirement.

However, the benefits of social distancing in the workplace are essential to keep in mind. They include:

  • You can reopen as a business—or return more employees to work, ensuring you can return to meeting daily requirements.
  • Respecting the two-metre rule can significantly reduce the chance of infection spreading, ensuring your business has a greater chance of remaining open.
  • It’ll ease employee anxiety and stress—by demonstrating you’re doing your utmost, this can help reduce anxiety on returning to work.
  • You adhere to the English guidelines.

Ultimately, a two-metre gap will help businesses across the UK return to some normality after lockdown. So, it’s in your best interests to use the approach.

Remember, local jurisdictions have their rules about social distancing. So you should check to see with regards to whether your business can, or can’t, open.

Your two-metre policy

You can use this this to develop your business’ response to the UK government’s guidelines. This policy can address how you expect employees to behave in your working environment.

But you can also establish what your business intends to do to combat the pandemic, with a direct response to minimising the risk of transmission.

You can use the following social distancing policy overview as the basis for your business’. But adapt it as you see fit to meet your requirements. You should explain:

  • How your business is dealing with the requirement for a two-metre gap (or one-metre+).
  • The procedures you’re putting in place to manage the situation.
  • The practical steps you’re using (such as with signs, physical markers, and hand sanitiser).
  • What your employees’ responsibilities are.
  • How you’ll adapt and handle your response to the pandemic in the coming months.

In your document, you must be as extensive as you feel it needs to be. But you can read our guide on how to become a COVID-19 secure workplace for more advice.

For example, with the social distance signage you can use. This’ll help to strengthen your policy.

The signs don’t have to be elaborate—so long as they state the main points of your policy and encourage employee welfare, they can make a positive difference.

Some of the signs you can use are as follows:

  • Wall signs requesting staff practice maintaining a two-metre gap.
  • Floor signs clearly indicating how your one-way traffic system works (such as signs stating “NO ENTRY” and “ONE WAY” to help the flow of workplace traffic).
  • “NO ENTRY” signs for locations around your premises where maintaining the gap isn’t possible.

You can place such signs around your business at essential points. While promoting greater health & safety, they’re also a reminder for employees.

Busy working, some may naturally forget about the current regulations—your posters, signs, and floor signs can remind them of their workplace responsibilities.

The impact of social distancing in the workplace

Despite its advantages, the two-metre (or one-metre+) requirements will, unquestionably, have some an impact on how you operate daily.  

It’ll make normal procedures more complex in the months ahead—such as simply holding a meeting. So, you’ll need to think creatively to work around the restrictions and limitations.

It may also mean certain activities take longer than they normally would—such as lunch breaks. Or they may need constructive thinking to work around.

One of the main issues will be to avoid overcrowding—so, you can’t return everyone at once to your business. You have to adapt to the two-metre rule needs, which will mean you may have to stagger the return of your workforce.

Ultimately, how much it affects your running will depend on your resourcefulness. And your ability to provide staff with training about the requirements ahead.

Social distancing at work in the retail sector

For customer-facing roles, as an employer you must factor in the needs of your staff—and those visiting your premises.

The UK government has provided specific guidelines for the likes of supermarkets and shops. A summary of the steps you can take is below:

  • Manage your store entry so that a set limit of people can enter at any given time.
  • Place signage around your store so that customers with any coronavirus symptoms don’t enter.
  • Place two-metre gap signs around the premises.
  • Develop a one-way system to direct traffic around your store—this should work in a way to avoid overcrowding.
  • Use contactless payments, where possible.
  • Promote a thorough hygiene and cleanliness procedure to keep your store clean.
  • Deploy handwashing stations around your store—this can include soap and hand sanitiser.
  • Use Perspex barriers where necessary.

A risk assessment of your workplace will help to determine the best approach you can take, along with the above guidelines.

Social distancing at work in the healthcare sector

For some industries, physical contact is impossible to avoid. In these cases, the UK government’s guideline is to manage the risk of transmission.

For NHS and other healthcare workers, it’s important to consider how to do this—such as through the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

However, maintaining a two-metre gap when possible is essential. It requires strong leadership in an environment such as GPs, dentists, and possibly chiropractors or podiatrists. As well as using the following procedures:

  • Screen and mask: Have a thorough screening process for employees arriving—and for patients and family members visiting them. A masking policy will also help to limit the risk of transmission.
  • Provide two-metre rule advice: Around a hospital or general practice, place clear signs about how to correctly social distance.
  • Telemedicine: Where possible, provide advice over the phone (this is appropriate for GPs)—which means allowing certain employees to remote work. This can alleviate overcrowding and help reduce density in important areas around the premises.
  • Have a drive-through clinic: To alleviate further traffic in your healthcare premises, a vaccine clinic can provide the public with an area to arrive and receive treatment.

How to maintain social distance at work in the social care sector

In the event your business provides personal care, protection, and support to adults or children, the two-metre rule can be difficult to manage.

Again, as the UK government’s guidelines indicate, you should manage the risks of transmission. This is because physical contact may be impossible to avoid.

The result is you should try to maintain guidelines where possible, but also:

  • They should have a personal care plan for each service user—that includes COVID-19 control measures.
  • Supply personal protective equipment to employees (service users) where necessary.
  • Where possible, maintain a two-metre gap from colleagues and service users.
  • Train staff about how to approach their daily duties.
  • Provide updates to service users about how you’re managing the current pandemic.

Need our help?

We can assist you with getting your business up and running after the UK’s lockdown. Call us today for quick answers to your questions: 0800 028 2420.

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