As the government announced on 31 October, the UK will enter a second national lockdown on 5 November which according to Michael Gove, could last beyond 2 December1. Like the first lockdown, the aim is to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which many experts believe could put untold strain on the NHS2 during the winter season.
Hopefully we’ve all learned some valuable lessons from “the lockdown summer” and have taken additional steps to weather the storm of future local and national lockdown measures. If you already have your second lockdown plans ready to go, now is a good time to implement them. For those of you who don’t feel fully prepared or just want to validate your plans then you don’t need to fret. Here we take a look at recommendations for care, construction, and office-based businesses, some of which will apply to most business sectors.
These three areas were hit particularly hard earlier this year – especially the care sector and construction businesses – but also the office-based businesses that employ an estimated 10 million people3 — roughly a third of the total UK workforce4. Both redoubling infection control efforts and preparing for the worst are now vital.
So, what can these organisations do to prepare?
First and foremost, it is essential that every business follows government COVID-19 Secure guidelines — which cover everything from hygiene regimes to social distancing — as well as sector specific guidelines for construction, offices, and adult social care.
Reviewing operations and planning ahead will also help these businesses manage tighter restrictions.
The care sector
Organisations like the National Care Forum are lobbying government5 for more support for a sector that the first wave was devastatingly affected by - and has worked with the University of Leeds to assess lessons learned6.
The report based on that research, Learning by Experience and Supporting the Care Home Sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, sets out detailed research findings, lessons learned, and recommendations across a range of areas.
For instance, on the topic of disease prevention and control, recommendations to consider include:
- Minimising person-to-person contact and the use of “zoning” and “cohorting” amongst residents and staff to minimise cross infection.
- Strategies to minimise contact between staff caring for communities with and without the virus – particularly at lunch and break times.
- Planning one-way routes for care staff and visitors to enter and leave the premises and designating areas in which to put on and dispose of PPE.
- Providing shower facilities for staff to use when entering and leaving the premises.
- Working with PPE suppliers to ensure reliable availability and to build up a three-month supply.
- Finding ways to reassure staff and ensure confidence in PPE designed to protect them and residents.
- Conducting appropriate health and safety risk assessments for all staff and consider the needs of those at particularly high risk.
Drawing on experiences from the first wave, Mace Group7, has developed a range of recommendations for the sector to help prepare for and navigate a second COVID-19 wave.
Those recommendations include:
- Focus on health and safety: Reduce risk to individuals by redoubling efforts to ensure construction sites and offices are clean, hygienic, and safe working environments.
- Address fatigue and mental wellbeing: Reduced workforces and social distancing on site may have left staff feeling fatigued or affected their mental well-being, and a second wave is likely to make matters worse, so identifying and addressing issues now is vital.
- Work with partners to prepare: Reduce commercial risk by collaborating with clients and suppliers now, to agree a common approach in the event of COVID-19 related disruption.
- Increase productivity: Assess every programme and project to identify ways to increase productivity on site and through the supply chain. This work now could be critical to protecting output levels.
- Assess programme resilience: Continually review delivery and contingency plans for every programme of work – look at least six weeks ahead to identify possible issues and risks.
- Monitor supply chain performance: Global supply chains have suffered severe disruption and rising infection rates worldwide may exacerbate this issue, so it is important to proactively monitor supply chains, with a focus on those critical to project delivery, to identify delays or problems early.
- Develop contingency plans for lockdowns: Uncertainty about local or even national lockdowns creates unpredictable project delivery risk, so developing plans to address any issues that may arise is vitally important.
Further guidance for construction firms on navigating issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic is available from Build UK here, while government guidance on COVID-Secure construction can be accessed here.
The numbers of office staff working from home was rising—24% since the 24th September, compared with 21%8 the previous week. Those numbers are, however, still significantly lower than the 49% working from home at the height of lockdown in June9, though more office workers are expected to move back to the home office where possible when the second lockdown starts.
This time around, however, office-based businesses have had time to prepare: To look after staff well-being, minimise disruption, and make plans to cope as the second wave threatens business survival.
The steps these businesses can take include10:
- Supporting staff mental health: Make sure appropriate support networks are in place for staff required to work from home.
- Developing or update a formal working from home policy: This should deal with the practicalities of working from home, but also address issues like data protection and be sure to incorporate lessons learned from the first lockdown experience.
- Checking your Health and Safety Executive compliance: The rules for display screen equipment can be more onerous when employees work from home beyond what might be viewed as a “temporary” arrangement. Guidance on these rules are available here.
- Think about employee needs: It is important to plan ahead, particularly around staff members who may struggle to find childcare when working from home.
- Assess cost saving opportunities: A second lockdown may leave some firms forced to consider staff redundancies. Thinking now about where costs could be cut may help office-based businesses avoid or reduce the need to make these difficult decisions later.
This is just a sample of the wide range of steps firms could take to prepare for the second lockdown and, alongside this planning, it is vital to redouble efforts to ensure workplaces are COVID-Secure. Government guidelines for office-based businesses are available here.
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