How to maintain social distancing at work

29 May 2020

As businesses begin the process of returning to work in Ireland, social distancing will be one of the key phrases you’ll hear as an employer.

In fact, the practice is essential in ensuring health & safety standards during the pandemic.

It’s crucial your business enforces such a procedure. And that employees are aware of their social distancing at work responsibilities.

In this guide, we explain how you can ensure the welfare of your workforce during this difficult time.

You can also read our reopening advice for business owners for further support. But we’ll start now with a look at taking your first step.   

How to create social distancing at work plan

It’s advisable you apply the Return to Work Safely Protocol. The Irish government has created it to support you and your employees.

You must prepare adequately for the return of employees at work. And you must communicate public health advice to employees to make sure they're aware of current requirements.

If you create a policy, this’ll help to address your business’ standing. So you can make a plan about the two-metre rule—and how it applies across your business.

A health & safety risk assessment is an important part of the process, as it’ll help to identify how you can go about safely enforcing social distancing at work.

Once that’s complete, it can form the basics of your procedures.

You can refer to the below social distancing policy overview to help structure your business’ requirements. You should work with your lead worker representative to gain employee feedback on social distancing measures and present your proposals to employees and allow for an open discussion on your approach:

  • Explain that a risk assessment is complete—and you now have a plan in place for social distancing procedures.
  • Cover the current Irish guidelines on this matter—that employees should remain two-metres apart at all times.
  • You should mention which employees will return to work (many businesses will phase this process) and those who will remain remote working.
  • Cover the breadth of your business requirements while an employee is on-site, such as:
    • Your rules on maintaining social distance during break times—this may include requesting staff take their lunch breaks separately and alone. The decision on this is down to your business, with the regulations in mind.
    • How you’re adapting to common business needs, such as meetings or the use of company lifts.
    • The training you’ll provide your workforce.
    • If there’s any safety equipment staff will receive.
    • What procedures you have in place in the event of employee infection.
  • Remind employees they have the right to voice a complaint, or to refuse to return to work if they don’t feel safe.

In short, you must consider the nature of your business and its requirements. Your risk assessment will influence the nature of your policy. As will the industry you’re in.

You should ensure a qualified health & safety professional reviews your policy before you enact it.

What do I need to do to socially distance my staff?

You have a duty of care towards your employees. So, you must follow social distancing measures to reduce coronavirus infection rates. These include:

  • Placing signs around your premises to remind your staff of the two-metre rule.
  • Banning hot-desking, so staff don’t share workstations.
  • Placing tape on the floor at certain areas (such as near water coolers) to remind employees of what two-metres looks like.
  • Stagger the return of employees, so that only essential staff members are present.
  • If maintaining two-metres isn’t possible, consider banning certain activities (such as the use of lifts).
  • If necessary, arranging one-way walking through a workplace.
  • Banning meetings, with a switch to technology such as video conferencing.

Once you’ve finalised your procedures for your business (as it’s different for everyone—you may need specific requirements), you should communicate the results to your staff. This is the formalised use of social distancing for employees.

It’s important they understand your specific requirements.

If you fail to follow the correct procedures, this can result in a fine from the enforcement authorities. Or, if employees feel unsafe, then they may raise a complaint.

To help avoid this outcome, you can go a step further and make sure employees follow your workplace guidelines.

If your employees can’t stay two-metres apart

A common question right now is, “What do I need to do to segregate my staff?”

Well, if your business is in a situation where you can’t manage a two-metre rule then you should take practical steps to limit the risk of infections. You can do this in the following ways:

  • Analyse your daily activities and decide whether you need to continue with all of them.
  • Consider redeploying employees into different roles if there’s a compromise on their safety.
  • Setting up Perspex screens or barriers where necessary.
  • Implementing back-to-back or side-to-side working procedures.
  • Offering flexible hours to stagger start and finish times.
  • Providing PPE where necessary (such as with masks and gloves).
  • Offering homeworking, if the employee can complete their job remotely.
  • Provide alternatives to attending work, such as a reduction in hours or lay-off.

You can also take the below steps to make employees aware of their duties in and around your workplace.

How to ensure social distancing measures at work

You should make sure your workforce understands what to do—before they arrive back into their roles. Make it clear what your measures are.

It’s important they don’t have a memory lapse and continue on as if everything were normal.

To do this, you can raise staff awareness on social distancing. For example, you can:

  • Place posters around your working environment detailing the two-metre rule.
  • Communicate to employees regularly about your expectations.
  • Immediately communicate any amends to your policies, such as if Irish guidelines suddenly change.
  • Train employees, where necessary, so they understand how to deal with certain situations.
  • Use sticky tape/paint as two-metre markers—this should prove highly effective, as employees will physically see where they can stand in relation to colleagues.

Updating customers about your policy

You should also take social distancing for business customers into consideration—and what you’ll inform them upon your return to trading.

You may have to adapt your business to accommodate customers. This depends on your type of industry. But, for example, you can do the following:

  • Setup protective barriers (such as Perspex) to separate employees from customers.
  • Make sure there are high levels of hygiene from employees, and your business, to limit the risk of infection.
  • Offer calls via video conferencing, instead of meeting face-to-face.
  • If you’re an open shop, only allow a set number of customers into the store at a time.
  • Request customers respect the two-metre rule while on your premises.

Again, your risk assessment can determine your requirements for customers. It’s essential, of course, you place their safety first—you have a duty of care towards them, too.

Need return to work advice?

We can help your business bring employees back safely, so you can focus on developing your brand. Call us today: 0818 923 923.

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