UPDATED 10th November: Cardinus Health and Safety Director, Peter Kinselley discusses the challenges of returning to work after lockdown and what our RTW strategy looks like.

The messaging sent to the different nations of the United Kingdom involving lockdowns, firebreaks and other measures to reduce the spread of Coronavirus is evolving.

However, the message tends to remain the same. Continue to work at home (where you can), do as much outside exercise as you want, but limit contact with others and try to limit travel.

Regardless of which nation you are based in, you should only be allowing staff to go back to work, if it is safe to do so. With a vaccine on the horizon, it might be that you’re asking yourself, what will my return to work look like? This question will depend on a number of factors, related to the industry you work in, where your staff are located, what your office environment looks like, among others.

The View of Senior Leaders

In a conversation with Cardinus CEO, Andy Hawkes, I discussed our business returning to work and he commented that his biggest concern was the health and wellbeing of our staff and their families, in relation to COVID-19 and didn't want people back at work until he could guarantee this.

This will resonate with other CEOs and business leaders. We need to be able to work to sustain a business, and for many, this will require a return to the workplace. However, before going back we need to consider managing risk, uncertainty and ensure a safe and healthy environment.

Each business will need to consider how they will return to work and we should consider the following model to help us manage uncertainty and minimise harm.

How Can You Start Returning to Work?

You must make sure that your risk assessment for your business addresses the risks of COVID-19. It is about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace. Your risk assessment will help you decide whether you have done everything you need to. This is a 5 step process to safer working together:

  1. You have carried out a COVID-19 Risk Assessment and have shared the results with the people who work in your organisation
  2. You have cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures in line with government/NHS guidance
  3. You have taken all reasonable steps to help people work from home
  4. You have taken all reasonable steps to maintain a 2m distance in the workplace
  5. Where people cannot be 2m apart, you have done everything practical to manage the transmission risk

The guidance below will help you provide a framework for bringing your staff back to work safely.

Our Return to Work Strategy

Here at Cardinus, we have been working to develop a strategy to support our colleagues and clients. Our program focuses on the following protocol:

Return to office protocol using the PIPR Approach

The Prepare, Inform, Prevent, Recover Approach

To assist you we have developed the following guidance using the Prepare, Inform, Prevent, Recover (PIPR) approach.

1. Prepare:

Get ready to return to work and identify your return to work plan. This should include the following

  • Leadership team discuss and agree the business return to work programme
  • Plan to prepare your building for occupancy
  • Arrange to conduct a preoccupancy inspection and arrange a pre-occupancy deep cleaning programme
  • Train your FM and cleaning teams on good hygiene matters and establish a daily cleaning schedule
  • Review any service which may present a health issue and establish how you can minimise risk
  • Test all emergency and life safety systems

Agree who will return to work and consider the following:

  • Workplace distancing and space availability
  • Work routines to achieve workplace distancing
  • Vulnerable or at risk staff
  • Staff who have child or care responsibilities
  • Travel arrangements to, where possible, reduce the need for public transport

Establish workspace distancing protocols based on Government advice. This should be considered for the following:

  • Staggered arrival and departure
  • Building entrance and/or exit protocols
  • Workspace
  • Pantries and any space where food is prepared and eaten
  • Meetings internal
  • Meetings with clients
  • Security and Emergency arrangements

You also need to consider the consequences of increased anxiety caused by how the return to work may lead to workplace aggression and/or violence.

And importantly, establish a protocol to respond to expected spikes in the outbreak. This will ensure a quick response if you need to send your team home, you can do this effectively without disruption to service.

2. Inform:

Establish a return to work program and establish who will communicate with staff. The more senior the person, the better.

Arrange a welcome back to work program for staff and managers, to inform them of the 'new' workplace protocols. This includes:

  • Workplace distancing protocol and building cleaning arrangements
  • Travel and arrival arrangements
    • This is particularly important for those who cycle to work or use changing facilities
  • Relaxation of car share program, if in place
  • Follow Government advice on use of public transport
  • Working arrangements including breaks
  • Seating arrangements
  • Workstation health and hygiene requirements
  • Eating and drinking and use of fridges for personal food
  • Ill-health reporting and staff support program
  • End of day protocols, where an alternative team may be working on site
  • Travel to and from client sites or meetings
  • Vehicle hygiene requirements and checks

And keep reinforcing your health and hygiene messages as ultimately, they will keep people healthy and safe. A simple way to do this is to utilise e-learning. We’ve launched our customisable, standalone course that covers temporary home workers and those returning to work. Try it for yourself today. Just click the link and enter “New User, Register Here” to start.

Communicate your return to work policies easily with Healthy Transitional Working

3. Prevent:

Ensure that health and hygiene is managed and maintained by:

  • Identifying key touch points in the workplace and providing appropriate sanitation stations to allow hands to be cleaned
  • Washroom cleanliness
  • Determining cleaning frequencies which need to consider an initial clean of surfaces and HVAC system
  • Cleaning to consider core activities and staff provided with appropriate PPE and be visible to staff during the working day
    • PPE is recommended for psychological control, rather than a safety measure
  • Ensuring statutory testing is undertaken safely
  • Reviewing:
    • Food preparation and server areas to ensure workspace distancing can be maintained
    • Deliveries
    • Waste Arrangements included specific arrangements for PPE worn by cleaners and FM Staff
    • Cycle to work arrangements and changing facilities where provided
  • Reinforcement of workplace distancing protocols

4. Recover:

The business recovery is a key stage. Leaders should monitor the effectiveness of the return to work program to ensure that it remains effective and is supporting those who have returned to work. It can also be used to restore confidence in the business.

Review lessons learnt from the outbreak and ask for feedback. Critique what you've learnt and use this to improve.

Review and update your Business Continuity Plan. Most organisations will have had their plan activated by the outbreak so we would encourage you to learn from this.

Finally, review what you've learnt from the period of time people have been working from home. Are there positives to be had? We believe that lockdown has reconnected families and given people time look at what's important to them, so it might be time to look at how teams work in a different way!

The above should bring some structure to your return to work program but, there's lots more to consider. For help managing your return to work process, take a look at our return to work checklist which considers the below areas when planning your return to work process:

  • Organisation
  • Overall
  • Safety/Security systems
  • Facilities
  • Planning


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