5 questions to ask before returning to workplaces

Chris Warburton · 28 May 2020

Although significant numbers of workers and Prospect members are continuing to work from home, many more are not able to work remotely and the return to workplaces is starting to begin.

Health and Safety

However, this cannot mean business as usual. Stringent safety measures must be in place before any work commences.

Five questions to ask

1. Is the job really necessary?

Can it be left or postponed, or redesigned to achieve the same operational objective? While it can be frustrating for jobs not to get done because of the pandemic, it’s important that a proper assessment is made to reduce risk.

2. How can the job be organised in order to maintain social distance, plus wider health and safety?

With most jobs and tasks, it is possible for people to stay two metres apart, particularly if a plan is in place to ensure this is the case.

3. Has work been planned so that colleagues are only on site if they need to be?

Jobs should only be completed in the workplace if they cannot be carried out at home. Employers should carefully consider how many people can safely work on site while maintaining social distancing.

4. Has communication on site established that everyone understands their role?

Remember, roles might not be the same as they were before the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s important everyone is clear of their role in the task. It must be established that people are fit and competent to complete their roles in the task before it goes ahead.

5. If there are exceptional situations when social distancing can’t be maintained, how will the risk be managed and contact minimised?

There may be certain situations or emergencies when it is not possible to stay two metres apart. For these situations, a plan for the managing of risk must be in place before the task is carried out.

Things to remember

  • Some coronaviruses can last on surfaces for up to nine days.
  • There is currently insufficient knowledge about immunity to COVID-19: there is evidence that people can develop other zoonotic infections more than once.
  • The reliability of the various tests for COVID-19 is complex, so check what the tests actually mean.
  • Safe systems of work, including social distancing, are our first line of defence. These systems should be applied at all times, including breaks, to maintain social distancing.
  • Work must continue to be safe in all the usual ways as well. Colleagues showing symptoms must not work.
  • PPE should always be worn where needed, but this is the last resort and definitely not a solution for all circumstances. PPE remains a vital but last line of defence.

Chris Warburton is Prospect‘s health and safety researcher

Want to make sure your return to work is safe?

If you are concerned about your return to work, then you need to join a union. Prospect is actively engaging with hundreds of our members’ employers to ensure their safety when they return to their workplaces.
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