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How Health & Safety and HR Managers can prepare for a potential second lockdown

A line of people with a speech bubble symbol, direction symbol and tick symbol, taken from iHASCO's return to work during and after COVID-19 training course

This year companies have experienced major disruptions, and although many have resumed business the chance of a second lockdown remains a possibility. Health & Safety and HR Managers need to be prepared, and understand how this will impact their operations, staff and even their future should this happen. Furthermore, in the event of a second wave of COVID-19, considerations to workplace safety should already be in place to minimise the spread of infection but will need to be reviewed. Every business should have a clear plan to help prepare for further obstacles brought by COVID-19. 

Plan for a second lockdown

Whilst everyone remains hopeful that a UK-wide lockdown situation will not happen again, we have seen that local lockdowns are a possibility, where some types of businesses could be forced to close, such as cafes, pubs and shops. Therefore in the event of closure, business owners need to be aware that the furlough scheme comes to an end on 31st October this year. This will mean businesses need to determine if they could pay their staff or work out how they can avoid redundancies if they cannot operate for a short period of time. Asking staff to take holiday or reduced pay could help ease the burden. If your business has multiple sites, there is the opportunity to ask staff to work from an alternative location. However businesses need to be aware of current employment contracts and make amendments to these where necessary.

Despite many employees having returned to the office, a further period of remote working could be necessary if there is a steep rise in coronavirus cases. If this is the case, and it is possible for employees to work from home, businesses need to make sure any issues from the first lockdown period were resolved, and that employees have the necessary equipment and help to complete their roles effectively. Employees will understandably have little patience for repeated problems. Businesses need to ask themselves that if a lockdown was announced are they in a position for staff to work from home with the correct tools and resources immediately. For example, do employers have the correct contact details for all employees or is there any additional equipment needed such as mobile phones or monitors, and are IT systems able to cope with remote working requirements? Having these plans in place means your business is better prepared for any further remote working or set up for longer term plans if required.

Review methods of employee communication

It is incredibly important to be open and honest with employees. Sharing contingency plans and updated procedures regularly with staff will help them feel informed and more in control of what will happen in the event of a rapid increase in COVID-19. 

The Edelman Trust Barometer Coronavirus Special Report found that employer communications are seen as the most credible source of information about the pandemic. On top of that, respondents felt employers must share information, from how many employees have contracted the virus, to how the Coronavirus will affect operations. 

With this in mind, employers have the opportunity to work with their employees to fight the challenges ahead together and maintain the balance of keeping their staff safe, yet maintaining any business progress or success that has already been made since returning. Maintaining regular contact, through emails, newsletters and even video messages means that your workforce is ready and knows what is expected if there is a further lockdown, an increase in infection rates or if someone in the company tests positive for COVID-19. Review your current communication methods and adapt or amend them to ensure employees feel informed and know who to ask should they have any questions. Therefore in the event of needing to notify employees of any immediate changes there is already a system in place. It can also be used to remind employees about safe practises such as increased hand washing and distancing requirements to promote workplace safety. 

Update and review policies and procedures

It's vital that organisations keep their policies and procedures up to date. Has a homeworking policy been created or reviewed in light of the lockdown? Have your remote workers completed a DSE assessment or will they need to if remote working is required for a further period of time? Are employees aware of data protection requirements and best cyber security practices, in line with company policies? 

On top of that your sickness policy must be clear on what employees should do if they are unwell and display COVID-19 symptoms, as well as detail sick pay practices. It should also detail self isolation and contact testing requirements. 

Your COVID-19 policy also needs to be reviewed and as further government guidance is announced, controls may need to be maintained or adapted. If employees have concerns or feedback listen to them and adapt your policy if required. Monitor how controls are working and consult with employees.

Share any amended policies and procedures with your employees. Some organisations use an LMS which incorporates policy & document storage. This makes for a simple way of sharing these documents with all employees quickly and efficiently. It allows for easy access to these documents and managers can see if they have been read by employees.

Be aware of the potential for increased staff absences

The increase of COVID-19 cases does have implications for staffing levels. If you have employees who must self isolate and cannot work from home how will you operate? Some businesses, particularly those in hospitality or retail, have split staff into separate teams on a rota. Therefore if one group needs to self isolate, the other group can remain working if they have not come into contact with the infected group. If staff are not unwell, and can work from home then this may be the best option to help them continue with their job. Or it may be possible to give them a different role which can be undertaken from home. What happens if many staff are unwell and cannot work? Forward planning for these different scenarios will help determine what is right for each company in the event of self isolation cases.

Employees may not be able to come into work if they have children or dependants who are suffering with COVID-19 symptoms. If a COVID test cannot be booked, then the period of self isolation must be obeyed which will prolong absence. There are concerns among parents as children cannot return to the classroom without a negative COVID test result. With the cold and flu season upon us there will be more incidences of illness and if it is difficult to book testing some workers may be thrown into their own short lockdown with their families. Homeworking, re allocating work to other staff or offices, increased flexi working or asking employees to take holiday are some of the options businesses could consider to help ease workloads.

In the event of a second wave of Coronavirus, some employees will still be required to go to work. If this is the case, it is essential that COVID-secure measures are in place and staff feel confident that any risk to their health and safety is minimised.

Review employee health and safety

It is crucial that businesses consider the health and safety of their employees specifically in relation to Coronavirus. This means that businesses must follow government guidance, stay up to date with changes as well as carry out risk assessments and amend and update any relevant policies and procedures. It is also important to ensure your employees comply with any health and safety measures. If COVID-19 cases start to rise rapidly organisations need to consider any further measures required to protect employees. If employees resume remote working an employer still has responsibilities regarding their health and safety. Offer DSE assessments, or support their mental health and wellbeing, in order for them to carry out their roles safely. After time away from the office, it is important to provide refresher health and safety training, such as Fire Awareness and Infection Prevention and Control. Looking after your employees will create a positive work culture, provide productive and engaged staff and even attract new talent in the future.

Provide ongoing training

Workplaces have a duty to look after their employees health, safety and wellbeing. With the threat of a further lockdown, possible staff absences and no guarantee what the future holds, it is a good idea to provide online training to staff in key areas such as DSE, Infection Prevention & Control, Cyber Security, Effective Remote Working, Time Management and Mental Health Awareness. For those in the hospitality industry it could be an ideal time for Food Safety and Hygiene training, or Customer Service training.  

eLearning has many benefits and is set to play a vital role in the future of workplace training. Not only is it cost effective, but it is also convenient and allows delivery of a consistent training programme to all employees, wherever they are based. With many eLearning providers offering the use of a Learning Management System, organisations can easily manage their staff training, administering and reporting. Even if staff cannot come into the office, training can be ongoing as it is accessible from any laptop, tablet or smartphone with wi-fi or 4G connection. 

Here at iHASCO we have been helping over 10,000 UK businesses complete their online workplace training. With 100+ courses to choose from you can be sure to deliver relevant and engaging training to your staff to help keep them safe at work. We are offering a free trial, which includes access to the entire course library, to help businesses see how online workplace training can be part of their future plans. Just fill out the form below to start your free trial today!

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