Developing a new business strategy as lockdown rules ease

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As governments begin to relax Covid-19 lockdown rules, companies are working on plans to return operations back to normal while ensuring the safety of employees and clients.

Staff will find their workplace significantly altered and will need to adapt to new processes. In general, changes to existing protocols are likely to include more hygiene measures, more separation between workers as well as between employees and clients. But that’s not all.

 

Approaches differ by sector

Shops and supermarkets that continued to operate during the lockdown have paved the way for others to follow with control measures such as limiting customers, enhanced cleaning regimes, using social distancing markers and the use of Perspex screens at checkouts.

Retail businesses will need to ensure 2m distance between clients when queuing and plastic screens at tills to ensure there is no physical contact between staff and shoppers. Access to toilets and changing rooms may be banned or restricted. Constant cleaning with antiviral spraying will help boost trust of clients and employees that they are operating in a safe environment.

Employees working in offices will face different floor layouts and limits for staff numbers to ensure that there is enough space between individuals. Separate entrances and exits for the building may be another option. Staggered start and end times may become a popular solution to allow employees to avoid the rush hour. Limits on lift capacity and minimum social distance in meetings are also likely to be enforced.

Because of the new space limitations, not all employees will return to office work immediately, at least not at the same time. This may not be an issue for most office workers since working from home has worked out surprisingly well for many. 

This is different in the manufacturing sector where machines require tasks to be performed on site. Here, the inclusion of social distancing measures is likely to result in lower productivity at least at the beginning. In Germany, carmakers have introduced markings on the floor to ensure that workers keep the appropriate distance from colleagues and more time was needed to disinfect tools and surfaces when they swapped positions. In China, fences between workers are among the measures bringing factories back to life. 

In construction, workers may not only be required to work within two metres of each other but also side by side, or facing away from each other, to avoid potential contamination via airborne particles. 

Restaurants and cafes will need to redesign their facilities so that social distancing is possible on the premises. In many cases this may impact the variety of services that can be offered to customers and certainly the way they are delivered. Bars may for example become dispense bars only with no sitting or standing at the bar allowed. The total numbers on the premises and at each table are likely to be limited. 

Similar social distancing as well as appropriate hygiene measures will be put in place by opticians, vets, dental centres and medical surgeries. Veterinary practices are operating a closed-door policy and have measures in place to make sure animals can be handed over safely without contact. 

In summary, every business will need to find creative solutions to operate in a safe way. 

 

Use of personal protective equipment

An increasing number of countries is making the use of masks compulsory in public transportation and shops. Businesses are therefore discussing the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and may want to consider providing face masks to employees. 

There is potential for claims arising from the absence of PPE but the chances of success are arguably very low. In relation to civil claims, allegations will centre round the employers’ duty of care, albeit interpreted by reference to existing regulations (PPE regulations for example).

It is likely that any claimant would have significant difficulty establishing that it was negligent not to provide a mask, for example, to a retail or manufacturing employee or office worker, if current authoritative guidance does not advocate it. Regular coronavirus testing for staff may be an alternative option to further boost confidence in the safety of the work conditions. 

Nevertheless, robust and documented risk assessments and decisions taken considering all reasonable control methods that should be deployed in light of authorities’ guidance will support a defence if required.

 

Creating a tailored strategy

A strategy for the reoccupation of facilities and the resumption of business travel should be holistic, including consideration of a broad set of factors that have been customized to the company’s unique risk profile. A risk-led approach needs to account for the health and wellbeing of an organization’s staff as well as the broader community with a potential financial and reputational impact.

The strategy needs to define which employees should be the first to go back to work, what type of business travel should be prioritized and which category of facilities should be the first to reopen. An effective strategy should also reassess longer term real estate requirements in light of new working from home policies, and a potential reduction of internal travel in favour of virtual meetings. Such considerations may become part of cost reduction as the company readjusts to the post lockdown economic climate. 

In order to comply with ‘potentially moving’ guidance from authorities, companies should review their risk assessment for Covid-19 on a regular basis and potentially implement or enforce additional controls. The plan should also include procedures for reducing onsite activities and travel should the virus cases spike again. 


Recommendations:

Undertake risk assessments for Covid-19 and implement control measures considering the ‘new normal’ working environment. These should take into account government and industry guidance and include:
•    Potential exposure via contact with Covid-19 carriers at work, third parties or members of the public.
•    Potential for virus spread through contamination on surfaces and articles.  The latter may include products on display in retail or food service outlets.  
•    Social distancing controls e.g. workstation layouts, congregation points, access and egress points etc.
•    Additional or enhanced PPE requirements (training, face-fit testing, compliance regime).   
•    Peripatetic workers, with professional drivers requiring particular consideration.
•    Lone / home working considerations including musculoskeletal issues arising from home-working set-up and environment.
•    Particular considerations for vulnerable workers with underlying health conditions.
•    Anxiety and stress/mental anguish arising from contracting COVID-19 (or fear of), poor communication or isolation.
•    New risks to the workplace e.g. from reduced staff and associated inadequate competence or supervision.
•    Management of visitors and third parties to premises (e.g. exclusion of non-essential visitors).

These measures should be documented with significant findings and any new controls communicated to employees.

 

Further action
•    Keep copies of government and authoritative industry guidance issued and relevant to your organisation including records of your actions taken to comply with them (along with follow up reviews of decisions taken).
•    Where statutory examinations may have lapsed implement controls to mitigate in line with guidance. 
•    Ensure all fire exit doors are unlocked prior to re-occupying the building.
•    If the facility is to be re-occupied with a reduced number of employees, ensure adequate emergency responders such as fire wardens and first aiders.  Other emergency arrangements such as flood response, chemical spillage and emergency energy isolation should also be considered.
•    There may be an elevated risk of legionnaire’s disease due to standing water in tanks/dead legs and cleaning/flushing programmes ceasing. Ensure arrangements are in place to address this.
•    If fire protection systems such as sprinklers, fire alarms, gaseous extinguishing systems have not been tested and serviced regularly during lockdown arrange for them to be tested and serviced as soon as possible. The same applies to work equipment (e.g. ladders, scaffold, machinery safety devices).
•    At plants that store or use flammable liquids & gasses consider the potential for explosive atmosphere that could have built-up inside a room, vessel or in equipment during the lockdown and what measures will be required to make the plant/area safe.
•    Assess current and future customer base and demand and evaluate potential impacts on service provision, especially where restrictions are in place due to social distancing, or other Government guidelines.
•    Review any existing contracts affected, especially those containing penalties or service delivery stipulations.
•    Re-evaluate your current inventory cover and existing list of critical, or sole suppliers to the organisation. Are they still able to meet your current and expected requirements and timescales?  Will any changes suppliers are making impact your services?  Is there now an increased dependency on fewer suppliers? 

For further information, please contact our Lockton Offices.

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