With Phase 3 upon us, many workplace procedures and practices are adapting to fully comply with public health protection measures. As part of our Well at Work blog series, Professor John Gallagher, Managing Director of Cognate Health, outlines his three key occupational health guidelines for businesses returning in Phase 3 and beyond.
If you and your team has been working remotely in recent months and are set to return to the workplace in Phase 3 or Phase 4, there are three things to be mindful of — what your expectations are; how have you prepared the workplace for the return of staff; and whether you are accommodating staff in high risk groups. If you need occupational health guidance on Return to Work Safely protocols, please contact us today.
In relation to expectations, due to the phased return to work system, some businesses have opened, some will open in Phase 3, and others not until Phase 4. Some will choose to partially re-open and some may want their staff to continue to work from home, possibly indefinitely. You will need to communicate to your staff if temporary work at home arrangements are to be made more permanent as there may be contractual and other obligations to consider. Working from home does not mean any lessening of employers’ responsibilities in key areas such as health and safety, working time and employment law.
Is your workplace prepared for the return of staff? There are two aspects to this — risk management measures, so that the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace is reduced, and measures ensuring that staff are fit to return to work. The Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 and outlines that employers need to put in place a COVID-19 Response Plan. At the moment, we are assisting businesses in building out these plans using our unique remote case management system, Dayone+. Please contact Denis Weir or Sharon Cleary for more information.
ASSESS YOUR STAFF
A key part of return to work planning is a requirement for employers to ensure staff are free of COVID-19 symptoms and also whether certain staff in high risk groups need to be accommodated. Employers are required to assess all staff returning to the office workplace three days prior to their return by means of a simple questionnaire. Broadly speaking, in terms of health status, they are likely to be in one of three categories: no health issues, in a high-risk group, or in a very vulnerable group.
If a staff member is in an elevated risk group, their needs will be considered on a case-by-case basis and are judged on clinical risk assessment and job risk assessment. Work from home is preferable but in cases where it is essential to the company that they return to the workplace, then they might, for example, be placed in preferred social distancing locations and tasks. Occupational health guidance is invaluable here as occupational health practitioners are very skilled in assessing, not only health conditions, but also how these are managed at work.
If they are in the very vulnerable or “cocooning” group, they must continue as they are at present until the guidance changes and the national COVID-19 picture becomes clearer. I recently wrote a blog on managing a remote workforce, which you can find HERE.
Cognate Health can assist in your COVID-19 Response Plans including advice on policies for prompt identification and isolation of workers identified as cases or contacts; assistance with sickness absence management; and addressing any worker concerns. We can also access and advise on the requirements for high risk and vulnerable staff. Contact Denis Weir or Sharon Cleary for more information.