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Returning to the workplace: Guide to social distancing in the workplace

4 June 2020

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the UK economy. Months-long lockdown for many sectors has been difficult to cope with financially and in terms of team motivation and morale. We’ve now reached a place where it seems like getting back to some degree of normality is imminent for many parts of the economy. So, how do you ensure that any return to work in your office is a safe one that complies with the current rules?

Social distancing is key

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has confirmed that social distancing is a public health measure that it will look to take steps to enforce if employers aren’t bearing this in mind during the process of a return to work. Social distancing has been one of the single biggest positive factors in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and will necessarily remain a priority even as the country slowly returns to work. The HSE has said that businesses should continue to allow employees to work from home where they can but in many cases that may not be possible – social distancing is the key to ensuring a safe return to work.

What is social distancing?

Maintaining a 2-metre distance from others not in your household is the main driver of social distancing. However, it also requires people to avoid taking public transport where possible, not to gather in groups in public and to steer clear of anyone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19. The government has left much of the decision making as to what is and what isn’t social distancing – and how to accommodate this into daily life – in the hands of individuals and employers. However, it’s also clear that where there are pockets of COVID-19 outbreaks that may have resulted from a lack of social distancing measures in place, enforcement action could be taken. So, what can you do to ensure that your business complies?

  • Take it seriously. Even if you haven’t had COVID-19, don’t feel you’re at risk and don’t know anyone who is at risk, your actions could have a severe impact on others who are more vulnerable. Design a workplace policy on social distancing, embed it into daily practices and processes and make clear to staff that it is not negotiable.
  • Create a plan. Where are the locations in the workplace where social distancing could be problematic? Where are the potential flash points? Look at the entirety of the premises and work out how you’re going to enable the 2-metre distance to be maintained.
  • Encourage vigilance. It will be largely up to your staff to ensure that social distancing measures are working and to report where they are not – or where the rules are not being followed. Steer clear of a culture of telling tales on others but do make it clear that the business expects social distancing to be followed and that staff should feel free to feed back where existing measures are ineffective.

Social distancing in the workplace may require practice adjustment and an attitude shift. However, it will also reduce the long-term impact of coronavirus and could save lives.

Planning for a safe return to work is essential for protecting your employees and ensuring that your business can operate efficiently in a post-pandemic world. If you are looking for help on creating a safe, effective workplace, give us a call today on 020 8899 1100.

We have a range of supplies to help you bring employees back into the workplace safely and effectively including social distancing signage, PPE, and more. You can view our full range of products on our online store here.