News & Insights
Workplace health and safety has been brought into the spotlight by COVID-19.
An awareness of these issues has always been important to company decision makers and appointed individuals.
However, the pandemic has brought health and safety matters to the foreground, so that it now one of the fundamental considerations for employers and employees returning to the workplace.
It is important to note that employers have a legal obligation to consult with their staff on health and safety matters under the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) have promoted consultation to create considered and mutually agreeable plans for allowing employees to continue to work and, eventually, return to the workplace full or part-time.
Fundamentally, employers need to be very careful about using directive language when bringing staff back. The notion commanding an employee to be at work for the foreseeable future from the following Monday may cause friction between both parties. There must be this consultation and an appreciation of bringing staff back in a comfortable manner that adheres to health and safety.
This process starts with updating any risk assessment to manage the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.
However, health and safety concerns for staff begin during their commute. For those unable to drive to work, public transport has become one of the main concerns due to poor ventilation and overcrowding. In fact, many WFH individuals may see the commute as the primary boundary to returning to the workplace rather than the time spent in the property itself.
Moreover, mental health concerns amongst employees have risen drastically during the pandemic. This should be an essential consideration for all employers.
Some staff members will be desperate for close contact with their colleagues after so long apart, yet others may be anxious about returning to the workplace.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitisation will be essential safety features in both the commute to, and occupation within, the workplace for the foreseeable future.
For customer-facing or office-based staff positioned close to each other, Perspex screens offer an essential divider between individuals, though they often impede communication, especially when combined with face-coverings.
Smart touch-free technology in the workplace has been given substantially more attention over the last year. Many commercial tenants have installed touch-free sanitiser stations or have made use of mobile apps to remotely control the air-conditioning in their demise.
Conversely, landlords are increasingly looking to modernise areas of buildings, such as access control and toilet areas, with similar technology to entice future tenants.
Many companies have also implemented one-way systems across their floorplates.
Office occupiers may look to minimize close contact between individuals during entry and exit from buildings and around the occupied space.
However, retailers have almost universally applied these systems in stores, with varying degrees of success; many customers often seem too engrossed in the novel shopping experience to follow the floor-arrows.
A universal approach across all sectors has been to increase the amount of space designated to each employee/customer to accommodate social distancing.
This could become a long-term consideration, with businesses looking to redefine what their maximum occupancy can be day-to-day to ensure staff safety.
The enforcement of this is likely to be managed at an arms-length for some office-based businesses, where employees (who can) will be required to work from home in varying shift patterns across the week, allowing employers to predict daily occupancy levels effectively.
In retail and non-seated hospitality venues this becomes slightly more challenging, often warranting a member of staff or security to be positioned on entrances to monitor total occupancy levels and preventing there being any surplus to the maximum. However, this strategy does also allow venue operators to effectively ensure the traceability of any person that enters their premises through the government’s track and trace initiative, keeping staff and customers aware of any threats to health in the future.
Even more detail was discussed in the live webinar. If you missed it, a recording can be viewed in our video library:
Similarly, it is likely that improvements to the quality of mechanical elements installed in commercial properties, across all sectors, will be made by landlords and sought by tenants.
Air quality and ventilation are fundamental areas of workplace where the minimum standards need to be raised. Flu-like symptoms in employees may have already been attributed to their office air-conditioning in the past; COVID-19 and, sadly, any future airborne diseases will require greater levels of fresh air intake and better quality of filtration.
The government has even proposed that ventilation systems in commercial buildings should be improved to increase circulation by 50% and should also prevent stale air from recirculating between different rooms unless filtering systems are in place.
Click here for more information surrounding the post-pandemic future for commercial tenants.