HCR Law Events

6 May 2020

Post-lockdown draft guidelines and safe office working

The current lockdown period is due to be reviewed on Thursday 7 May, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will reveal a “roadmap” for coming out of lockdown on Sunday 10 May.

But before that business groups and trade unions have been sent draft guidelines on how to protect people if physical distancing rules cannot be followed.

How do we follow social distancing rules in the modern workplace?

If businesses are expected to implement the Government’s current draft suggestions, that will be decidedly tough in an open plan environment.

After coronavirus, the open plan office format has become less revolutionary but riskier. Open plan working is designed to be collaborative but the current draft government suggestions include:

  • using physical shields
  • placing time limits on face-to-face meetings
  • encouraging staggered shift times
  • reducing hot-desking.

The draft suggestions also urge employers to minimise the number of staff using equipment and maximise home working. Indeed, some may wonder if it’s time to do away with the open plan model and just reinstate offices with walls and doors. Others may consider revaluating the role of the office generally as a place where we choose to come to undertake activities that are better done in a group and in person (such as building relationships; learning and development interactions etc.) and home-working is for concentrative work and tight deadlines.

What should you do?

Significantly there appears to be a lack of actual real-life detail and application contained in the draft suggestions.

Given that the Health and Safety Executive is a consultee of the draft suggestions, it seems likely that many decisions will in fact be left to employers to implement, based on a risk assessment about what they consider safe.

Until there is something close to a national safety standard for businesses, schools and public services, clearly setting out the dos and don’ts, we advise that you seek to discharge your ongoing obligation “to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare of all their employees whilst they are at work” as per the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

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