What Have We Learned about Workplace Safety During COVID-19?
With the situation around workplace safety during COVID-19 being so fluid, businesses have had to adapt to protect their people and keep operations running.
We look back at some of the biggest lessons we’ve learned and how the right security solutions can help your business remain a safe and compliant environment.
In this article we’ll cover:
- How has COVID-19 affected our workplace?
- What are the safety measures to take at work during the COVID-19 Pandemic?
- Managing remote workers and how to maintain workplace safety
- How to prepare your premises for closing and opening before and after lockdown
- How to contain the risk of spreading germs at work
How has work been affected by COVID-19?
Most industries have been impacted in some way by the coronavirus pandemic. If you followed the headlines, you’ll know that very few industries escaped financially unscathed – the manufacturing and transportation & storage industries were among the highest for businesses permanently closing as a result of COVID-19. But if we look beyond the headlines, many businesses have continued to trade through the pandemic – looking at manufacturing again, production spiraled downward in April 2020 when the first lockdown was announced, before climbing rapidly back up again over the rest of the year.
The only way this could have been made possible was by businesses adapting to new rules for working safely during COVID-19. This higher priority on workplace safety and customer safety meant businesses operating, here are some key findings of the impact COVID-19 has had on how we work:
- In April 2020, 46% of people in employment did some work at home. Of those who did some work from home, 86% did so as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (ONS)
- Almost one-quarter of all businesses have temporarily closed or paused trading due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the United Kingdom as of April 2020 (Statista)
- Findings from our own 2021 Security Trends Report suggested COVID-19 introduced a monumental challenge in how to identify contagious individuals and prevent the spread of illness. This led to a fundamental shift in the way organisations leverage security solutions. Now, they’re looking at how security can help them ensure the health of their people and visitors.
We’ll use the rest of this article to unwrap these three findings and explore how you can prepare your business to provide a safe working environment during the pandemic and manage workplace safety in the long-term.
What are the safety measures to take at work during the COVID-19 Pandemic?
All businesses need to review the latest guidance from the UK Government on Working safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) – there are different guides available for various industries. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) also provides guidance for workplace safety, including:
- Updating your risk assessment to manage the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your business. This will help you to understand what you should do to work safely and protect people.
- Where possible you should keep people 2 metres apart. If this is not viable, keeping 1 metre apart with risk mitigation is acceptable.
- Keeping your workplace clean and frequent handwashing reduces the potential for coronavirus to spread. It is a critical part of making and keeping your business COVID-secure.
- Good ventilation (including air conditioning) can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.
- Consult and involve people in the steps you're taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in your workplace so you can: explain the changes you're planning to work safely, make sure changes will work and hear their ideas, continue to operate your business safely.
As you can see, some COVID-19 risks are easily addressed, such as hygiene through increased handwashing and surface cleaning; others less so and may require a more fundamental change in business processes.
Managing remote workers and how to maintain workplace safety
For many workers, the biggest change occurred right at the beginning when the first national lockdown was announced in the UK. Almost half of the people in employment ended up doing some work from home, especially in administration and customer service roles. Most of us would naturally feel safe at home, so it’s understandable that controlling workplace safety in that environment might be overlooked. The reality is that working remotely does come with its own risks, just like working on a production floor or in a warehouse.
As HSE says, “There will always be greater risks for lone workers with no direct supervision or anyone to help them if things go wrong.” The risk may increase for lone workers who are outdoors or other premises where their environment is even less controlled (for example, LGV Drivers, Couriers, Community Health Workers). Whether they’re working on-site or at home, the responsibility lies with the employer to ensure a safe working environment for employees. That’s why it’s important to offer additional workplace safety training to remote workers and the right equipment, like computer equipment and fire safety equipment. Consider the option of a personal security app that supports businesses in protecting vulnerable lone workers or any individual who may be at risk at work.
Another fascinating statistic was that almost a third of employees admitted to working more hours than usual as a result of working from home. This can be a red flag for employers as longer hours will inevitably lead to stress, which is a major safety risk – 25% of employees say long working hours are a primary cause of work-related stress. Modern time and attendance systems can provide important data insights to help you understand when your employees are working and for how long. This will help give your business better control to manage one of the biggest risks to your remote workers.
How to prepare your premises for closing and opening before and after lockdown
Many businesses had to shut their doors on public access areas during national and local lockdowns. In the event of closures, business owners were concerned about keeping their premises safe and secure while there was nobody there to watch them. We published an article outlining the seven key security checks business owners and site managers should undertake to assess and plan for the safety of their premises. We helped smaller businesses by providing smart business security systems that meant owners could receive alerts, manage security and monitor CCTV all from their phone. This also helps managers plan shift patterns for busy periods more accurately and avoid sending people into work unnecessarily.
For businesses that remained operational during lockdown (for example, factories, warehouses, fulfillment centers), there was a greater need to control the movement of people in and out of their buildings as a result of COVID-19. Tighter protocols were required for things like safety attire, shift patterns, visitor management, and limiting access to controlled areas on site. Of course, the biggest risk to workplace safety was spreading germs in their workplace, which we’ll discuss shortly.
If your business is preparing to reopen to the public after lockdown or if you’re planning to welcome back employees from furlough, it is vital that you follow the advice of HSE and conduct a risk assessment. Remember, any changes in your operations should take into consideration the potential for future lockdowns and tighter restrictions. We can support you with a free professional site audit, one of our experts can also talk you through the best security solutions to help you maintain a safe working environment.
How to contain the risk of spreading germs at work
There is no doubt the biggest risk to workplace safety during COVID-19 has been the potential risk of infection. It’s no wonder then that we found businesses are looking at how security can help them ensure the health of their people and visitors.
There some easy control measures employers can enforce to maintain hygiene in the workplace such as staff needing to regularly wash their hands – a basic practice for hospitality businesses and food manufacturers. But we’ve learned that taking half measures is not a sensible approach and could even see you fall foul of HSE. As the ‘Working Safely during COVID-19’ guidance booklets states: “No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment”.
So, what solutions have businesses found to mitigate the higher risk of infections? We’ve seen businesses of all sizes implement measures for queue control, which can be as simple as staggering start times for employees and painting 2m distance markers in areas of heavy traffic. Some have gone even further by utilising CCTV systems with analytical software to count how many staff or customers are in a building at one time, to help maintain safe distances between them. This may seem complicated but can actually be very simple to install and manage.
You may be wondering about thermal cameras and if they can assist with workplace safety and building control. The answer is yes, thermal cameras can play an important role in identifying people with high temperatures - we’ve even seen an example of this working in a food manufacturer in the UK - but it is important to note that they are not medical devices and cannot diagnose COVID-19 or any other disease.
Access control is perhaps the most important solution to help your business prevent the spread of germs and maintain workplace safety. Keeping people out of controlled areas is the best way to protect them from the risk of contaminating those areas or their colleagues. It hasn’t surprised us that we’ve seen a greater interest in touchless access control systems that use a card/fob or even facial recognition since the start of COVID-19 – these greatly diminish the level of surface contact in high traffic areas. Again, these may seem like high-tech solutions, but they can be installed and used effectively with minimal fuss. You can even mount an automatic hand sanitizer dispenser that is connected to and controlled by your access control system.
Stay safe today, and maintain workplace safety in an uncertain future
We’ve learned that the coronavirus is not a short-term crisis, we’ll no doubt have to find ways to live with COVID-19 now and into the future. We’ve also learned it’s essential to continually review your risk assessments and update protocols to manage workplace safety, especially while COVID-19 remains a prevalent threat. However, planning and implementing measures for the long term will be your best opportunity to protect your workers, safeguard your assets and manage operations in the long-term.