How trades businesses can reopen safely

Safety and insurance

29 May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives. And as we begin to move towards the so-called ‘new normal’ of life after coronavirus, how we work and how our businesses operate must change too.

In a public statement on 10 May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that in England, “anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work”.

It means that for many in the country, including builders, tradespeople and joiners, decisions will now be made about whether it’s the right time to reopen your business, and how to reopen in the safest way possible according to the best guidance available.

The UK Government has released a series of guidance documents on how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic, which contain the most up to date information. But AXA has put together a quick guide to some of the key risks, considerations and actions you should consider when getting your trades business ready to reopen after lockdown.

 

When can my trades business open back up for work?

The UK Government has said that certain businesses and workers in England which can’t otherwise operate from home should begin to go back to work from 14 May. This initial easing of lockdown measures only apply in England for now, and the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will publish individual guidance on their own plans to lift lockdown separately. Visit the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Assembly for the most up to date information.

Some sectors like hospitality or the beauty industry will remain on lockdown for longer because the risk of spreading infection is higher. However for trades, construction and manufacturing in England, where you can’t work from home but you can re-open your business safely and while observing all the latest health and safety, then you should begin to think about reopening after 14 May.

But whether your trades business is large or small remember: as always, if your work cannot be carried out safely it shouldn’t be carried out at all.

 

Getting ready to reopen

Although the UK Government is encouraging the trades industry to go back to work, it doesn’t mean it’s business as usual. It’s also important to remember that the Government guidelines in relation to coronavirus don’t override any existing health and safety legal obligations. You still have a legal duty to protect employees and others from risks to their health and safety arising from the activities of the business. 

No matter how essential a business is, there are no grounds for departing from the minimum legal standards. In fact, in the present crisis extra measures may be required. Employers are under a legal duty to do everything reasonably practicable to make the workplace safe for their employees. 

 It’s therefore important that a review of your working activities is undertaken before restarting any work through a COVID-19 Compliance Risk Assessment. This means looking at working areas and activities, checking equipment and premises, and considering what’s required to enable your employees to successfully distance themselves from colleagues and work safely. If you have fewer than five employees, your risk assessment doesn’t have to be in writing, but we would still advise this. You should involve your employees in the preparation of the risk assessment and share it with them when its completed.

Review all the areas of your work activity and look for contact points between you, any employees and any members of the public. Consider how these contact points and be avoided or minimised, if these can be managed within the correct 2m social distancing guidelines, and whether or not any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks or screens will be necessary.

Remember, the use of face coverings isn’t an alternative to social distancing and should only be considered where social distancing isn’t possible. Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed, you should think about whether that activity needs to continue in order for you to be able to do the job.  If it does, then all possible mitigating actions should be taken to reduce the risk of transmission.

If you have staff, talk to them before reopening about what your new ways of working might look like and what might be expected of them. Make sure they’re comfortable and fully informed before inviting them back to work, consider running training sessions for your staff before reopening your business and document these sessions for your records.

If you or any of your employees has symptoms of COVID-19, stay away from work entirely. Anyone who lives alone and has symptoms should self-isolate at home for seven days from the date the symptoms started. Anyone who is not the first person in the household to have symptoms must stay at home for 14 days from the day when the first person in the house became ill.

 

Working in other people’s homes

For many small trades businesses, getting back to work could mean working in other people’s homes, doing jobs like plumbing, essential repairs or maintenance.

If you’re a tradesperson and your work mostly involves working in other premises or entering a customer’s home, there are many considerations to keep in mind as you get ready to reopen your business.

Travelling to and from the job

The UK Government has advised people going back to work to avoid public transport wherever possible. Luckily for tradespeople, you’re probably more likely to be getting to and from jobs using a car or business van.

Where possible, you should try to travel alone or with as few other people as possible, maintaining good ventilation in the vehicle at all times. If you must travel with others, travel with the same people and avoid mixing groups of travellers together.

Clean the vehicle regularly using gloves and standard cleaning products, with emphasis on handles and other areas where surfaces are regularly touched like the steering wheel or radio.

Entering and leaving a customer’s home  

Only agree to any jobs in a customer’s home if that person is showing no symptoms, and only go back to work if you and any staff have no symptoms of coronavirus too, no matter how mild.

Wash your hands using soap and water for 20 seconds when you enter anyone’s home. You should also wash your hands regularly throughout the day, particularly after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing, and when leaving any property. Carry hand sanitizer with you at all times in case washing with soap and water isn’t an option.

Observing social distancing

While you’re working, try to maintain a two-metre distance when possible. This may mean asking the home owner to avoid certain rooms while you’re working in them, and declining that offer of a cup of tea. You should also ask homeowners to leave internal doors open for you, to minimise the need to touch handles and other surfaces.

When speaking to the homeowner or other customers, remember to keep your distance or, if possible, have any conversations prior to you arriving at the job on the telephone. If it’s not possible to work further than two metres away from someone while on the job, use back-to-back or side-to-side working, rather than face to face.

Spend as little time inside the property as possible and take your breaks outdoors or in a vehicle.

 

Working outdoors or at a building site

While for some going back to work may mean visiting a customer’s house, for others in the trades or construction industries going back to work means reopening the building site or offices. If you’re deciding when the time might be right for your construction business to get back on site, follow the guidance and information below.

Before you reopen

Before returning to the site, as an employer you must:

  • consult with staff and employee representatives about your plans to get up and running again
  • consider the risks that might come from returning to the workplace and carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment
  • make the workplace as safe as possible for you, your staff, customers and other visitors

Managing staff

The current guidance in England states that everyone should work from home unless they cannot do so. Think about the staff that must be on-site in order for your business to operate and decide who needs to return to work as a priority and who could wait until further restrictions are eased. 

Plan for the minimum number of people you need to be on site to operate safely and effectively. For example, workers deemed necessary to carry out physical works, supervise work, or conduct work in order to operate safely should be given priority.

Take care to monitor the wellbeing of all your staff, whether they’re working from home, on furlough, or returning to work.  If you or any of your staff are concerned or anxious about returning to work during the coronavirus pandemic, talk through any concerns and try to resolve them together. The NHS also hatarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">guidance which may help.

Perform a workplace risk assessment

You may not have visited your premises in a while, so perform a thorough site check. Check your site’s access points and make sure they’re still safe, secure and well signposted. Also perform safety checks on things like fire alarms and your plant, works and equipment before use.

Clean your offices thoroughly, including any public spaces like bathrooms and canteens. Sanitise all hand tools, controls, machinery and equipment before reopening and before and after each use. Avoid sharing tools and equipment if possible. Also clean objects and surfaces that are touched regularly such as buckets, site equipment and control panels. You may want to have a specialist provider carry out this work for you.

Arriving and leaving the site

As with any type of business going back to work the guidance is to avoid travelling via public transport if possible. Instead, walk, cycle or drive your own car to work if you can.

Encourage your team to stagger their arrivals and departure times to avoid overcrowding at commonly used spaces like entrances or exits, and if you can, implement additional entry and exit points on-site. You should also look at implementing one-way systems around the site or office, and providing hand washing or sanitising stations at entry and exit points.

Social distancing on-site

If your trades business is looking to reopen, you have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest level where you can, by taking the right preventative measures. And as we’ve seen in other aspects of daily life, one of the key ways to do this is by employing social distancing.

As your business reopens you must maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible. That means working two metres apart from other individuals when on the site, in the office, travelling to and from jobs or in break areas, canteens and other social spaces.

Some key ways to help enforce social distancing on a building site could include:

  • Reducing movement within buildings and sites – for example, restricting access to some areas, separating sites into working zones to keep different groups of workers physically separated, and reducing job rotation and equipment rotation, for example, single tasks for the day.
  • Implementing one-way systems around the workplace – for example using signage or floor markings to allow the controlled flow of people moving around the site and regulating the use of high-traffic areas like corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways with a one-at-a-time rule.
  • Reducing the number of people using one vehicle – for example if you use vehicles for onsite travel, or to travel between sites, employ a one-at-a-time rule or employ social distancing measures within the vehicle.
  • Reducing the number of people at meetings – for example, use technology to hold any site meetings or inductions remotely, or if you have to hold face-to-face meetings, hold them outdoors with social distancing.

But in some instances, employing social distancing just won’t be possible. Where the correct social distancing guidelines can’t be followed for whatever reason, ask yourself if it really needs to take place at all.

If it’s absolutely necessary, then take all the mitigating actions you can to reduce the risk of transmission between people on-site. This could include:

  • Increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning, even more than usual
  • Using screens or barriers to help separate people from each other and keeping staff static on one site where you can
  • Avoiding working face to face with other people if you can, and employ back-to-back or side-to-side working instead
  • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with during a job by using ‘fixed teams’, so each person only works with the same few others
  • Keeping the activity time involved for each task as short as possible

Personal protective equipment and face coverings

Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, has been making headlines perhaps more than ever in the current global circumstances. In relation to COVID-19, PPE can include things like face masks, gloves, visors and aprons. However, PPE also includes any protective equipment required to perform your role or task safely, and for the construction industry could include things like helmets, high visibility clothing or safety footwear.

You must ensure that you have adequate supplies of PPE in order for you or your staff to perform their work safely, including things like gloves, eye and face protection required for some operations like grinding, welding or handling, plus hard hats or hi-viz equipment and signage.

If your workplace risk assessment shows that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is high, then your first step should be to stop all work unless it is absolutely necessary, then employ social distancing, increased hygiene precautions and fixed teams or partnering. If the risk assessment determines that PPE is required, it’s your responsibility as an employer to provide it. Employees must not be put at risk because there is no PPE to wear for hazards in the workplace, so review and check that you have an inventory of additional items of PPE in supply, including things like gloves, eye and face protection.

For an in-depth look at how to manage the risks involved with re-opening your construction site, take a look at AXA’s post-coronavirus start up guidance for the construction industry

 

Next steps for reopening your trades business

If you’ve completed your risk assessments, cleaned your premises and equipment thoroughly, made the appropriate changes to your sites or practices to allow for social distancing, and trained your staff in the new processes and procedures, you can share the results with your customers.

The UK Government have issued a notice you can display to show that you’ve followed the correct guidance and now feel ready to reopen your business. You can download the notice here, and display it when your trades business is ready to get back to business.

 

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updated on how coronavirus (COVID-19) affects your business. Tale a look at our coronavirus-specific help and advice section.