Social Distancing in the Workplace

The rules on social distancing are changing frequently, and with the introduction of a national lockdown, the rules for social…

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The rules on social distancing are changing frequently, and with the introduction of a national lockdown, the rules for social distancing in the workplace are now more important than ever. The government is advising that anyone who can work effectively from home should do so, however there are some cases in which it is impossible to do so.

In this case, it is important to make sure that staff and customers are safe and that the risk of spreading the virus is low. There are ways in which employees and employers can help with this to keep everyone safe. 

This guide covers general advice on the coronavirus, symptoms to be aware of, tips for social distancing as well as social distancing in the workplace and making sure that if you are travelling to work, you are doing so safely. It is also important to look after your mental heath whether you are working from home or not so we have included some tips for mental health and wellbeing too. 

Reducing the Risk of Infection

In line with NHS guidance, there are certain things that you should be doing and should not be doing to help reduce the risk the risk of getting ill with coronavirus. It should be noted that you can spread the virus even if you do not have symptoms so it is important to follow the guidelines where necessary and stay inside if you have been exposed to someone with the virus. 

The following are a general set of guidelines on how to stay safe and practice social distancing when out of your home. Even with national lockdown restrictions, there are of course times where you are out of the house, following the guidelines will help to protect everyone. 

These are mainly focussed on cleanliness and how to make sure that you are avoiding the spread of infection by keeping your hands clean and not coming into contact with people outside of your household. 

Do:

  • Stay at least 2 metres (3 steps) away from anyone you do not live with (or anyone not in your support bubble)
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you sneeze or cough
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately after coughing or sneezing and then wash your hands
  • Where a face covering when instructed to outside of your home (for example in supermarkets)

Don’t

  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth if your hands are not clean 
  • Take off your face covering to speak to people when you have been instructed to wear one
  • Go out if you think that you have any symptoms of Coronavirus

Symptoms

Knowing the symptoms to look out for will help to recognise them early, therefore minimising the risk of spreading the virus. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should get a test and stay at home. 

The main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

Most people with coronavirus have at least 1 of these symptoms (NHS 2020).

What to do if you have symptoms:

If you have any of the main symptoms of coronavirus:

  1. Get a test to check if you have coronavirus as soon as possible.
  2. You and anyone you live with should stay at home until you get your test result – only leave your home to have a test.

Anyone in your support bubble should also stay at home if you have been in close contact with them since your symptoms started or during the 48 hours before they started (NHS 2020). 

Current Government Advice

In addition to the national restrictions from 5 November, the government is encouraging us to stay safe with the campaign ‘Hands. Face. Space.’

This is all about encouraging people to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, to cover your face with a face protector to reduce the risk of respiratory droplets lingering in the air, and to make space by keeping at least 2 metres apart. 

Tips for Social Distancing 

Social distancing measures are around to keep us all safe. They may seem inconvenient sometimes but by following all of the rules you are contributing to reducing the risk of infection, and therefore protecting yourself and your family. 

We have a few tips that may help you to grasp the new normal that we are all facing and to keep you and others safe when outside the home.

  • Know before you go

With the current national restrictions, it is crucial that you check where you are going before you go. For example, if you want to leave the house to buy food, check that the shop you are going to is open as unfortunately, it is not guaranteed that all smaller shops will be.

  • Think about transport

Currently, it is advised that you stay home and only travel when necessary for example if you cannot work from home and use public transport to get there. When using public transport make sure that you are following guidelines and wearing a face covering or consider using a different method such as cycling or walking where possible. 

  • Limit the amount of trips

When going to the supermarket, it is advised to wait until it is absolutely necessary to go to avoid leaving the house too often. This means that you can get everything you need in one go rather than going out multiple times to limit social contact with those outside of your household. 

Many supermarkets have also introduced the one adult rule to limit the amount of people in the store. Remember to keep this is mind then going out for the food shop.

  • Stay safe when exercising

With the national lockdown in place, you must not meet with other people socially, but you can go outside to exercise. According to GOV.UK, you can exercise or visit a public outdoor space:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble
  • or, when on your own, 1 person from another household

When outside exercising, remember to stay 2 metres apart from other people unless they are in your household or support bubble. 

Social Distancing in the Workplace

The current coronavirus advice is that anyone who can work effectively from home should do so. If you are in a position where your workplace is open then you should be sure to follow government advice on staying safe. To help you understand what this means, we have put together this guide all on social distancing in the workplace. 

GOV.UK has a list of guides on working safely during the coronavirus and social distancing in the workplace that explains the control measures that different types of business should consider. These cover construction, factories, offices, vehicle use and other types of work in England where employees will not be able to work from home due to the nature of work. 

In general, there are measures that can be put in place to maintain social distancing in the workplace in the instances where employees are still required to go into work. These include but are not limited to:

  • using floor tape or paint to mark work areas
  • providing signage to remind people to keep a 2 m distance
  • having people working side-by-side rather than face-to-face
  • maximising ventilation 
  • limiting movement of people:
    • rotating between jobs and equipment
    • using lifts and work vehicles
    • in high-traffic areas like corridors, turnstiles, and walkways
    • allow only essential trips within buildings and between sites

Those who are going into work should make sure that they are frequently washing their hands thoroughly with water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or if not accessible then they should be hand sanitising regularly. 

What Employers Should Do

An employer has a duty to make sure that staff, customers, and visitors to the workplace are safe and taken care of. This includes doing what they can to make sure that everyone’s well being is supported by:

  • Encouraging staff to work from home where possible
  • Making sure that staff working from home have the correct equipment and software necessary for them to do their job
  • Have completed a risk assessment and taken precautions to prevent harm in the workplace
  • Following the government guidelines on safer working (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19)
  • Checking in with staff mental health
  • Keep in regular contact in terms of any changes 

The government guidelines outline the legal requirements for different sectors as well as advice and guidance to ensure that staff are well looked after and are within their rights. 

During this time, mental health and wellbeing is also important to keeping happy and safe. It is also the duty of an employer to check in on their staff to see how they are feeling in terms of their mental health and well being. 

This includes providing staff with information on where they can find support internally as well as external sources that may be helpful (for example, pointing them in the direction of the Mind website). 

Working from Home

Practicing social distancing in the workplace is important, but what makes it easier is working from home where possible! This also keeps in line with the current government guidelines. 

In terms of working from home, both employers and employees must be practical, flexible and sensitive to what everyone’s situation is and whether they are able to work from home or not. It should be kept in mind what roles and tasks can easily be done from home, and which may need to be altered and reviewed for working at home. 

Everyone should be clear on what is expected, how the business is going to continue running, and how employees should be communicating with each other to check in professionally and personally when appropriate. 

It is not solely up to employers to make sure that everyone is safe. Equally, employees also have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety.

Anyone working from home should keep in regular contact with their manager or employer. Employers should be aware of:

  • any health and safety risks
  • any homeworking arrangements that need to change

There may also be employees who are looking after children. In this case, they should talk to their employer who should be sensitive and flexible towards the employee’s situation. This may result in a more flexible homeworking arrangement including the employee working different hours, reducing the amount of tasks or changing deadlines where possible, or agreeing that the employee may not be able to work full days. 

During this time it is important to consider that everyone has different situations and that working from home may be harder for some than others. The same approach may be needed if an employer is caring for someone else, for example an older relative or someone who is ill. 

When on Public Transport

Occasionally, there are times where using public transport is unavoidable. It is advised to try and use a different method of transport, for example cycling or walking however, there are precautions to think about if you do need to use public transport. 

New guidelines introduced from 5 November state that you must try to avoid travel, but if you must then you should look to reduce the number of journeys you are making. There are a few reasons as to why you can and should still travel, including:

  • travelling to work where you cannot work from home
  • travelling to education and for caring responsibilities
  • to visit those in your support bubble – or your childcare bubble for childcare
  • hospital, GP and other medical appointments or visits where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health
  • to buy goods or services from premises that are open, including essential retail
  • to spend time or exercise outdoors – this should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel to do so if necessary (for example, to access an open space)
  • attending the care and exercise of a pet, or veterinary services

If you are travelling for the reasons above, GOV.UK (2020) has given some advice on how you can help to keep yourself and others safe when on public transport. The following is what you should be doing when travelling. 

  • Observe social distancing rules
  • Wear a face covering at all times when on public transport 
  • Washing or sanitising your hands regularly
  • Avoid touching your face, mouth, and eyes
  • Avoid the busiest routes, as well as times such as rush hour
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when coughing or sneezing
  • Travel side by side or behind other people, not opposite 
  • Downloading the official NHS COVID-19 app (if possible) before you travel to check in with the QR code when you see the posters

It also is advised that you should definitely not travel if you:

  • Are experiencing any of the Coronavirus symptoms
  • Share a household or support bubble with someone who has symptoms 
  • Are clinically vulnerable and live in an area where additional public health measures mean you have been advised to resume shielding
  • Have been told by the NHS Test and Trace service or COVID-19 app to self-isolate

It is important to stress that if you have been told to shield but do not have symptoms you should not leave your house or go on any public transport. You may not be showing symptoms but are still able to pass on the virus to someone else, therefore it is important to stay inside until instructed. 

In line with the lockdown, this means not leaving the house even to get food or essential items. You will need to arrange with a friend, family member or neighbour to help with your food shop and any other urgent needs as it is important to stay inside to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. 

The current law states that you must wear a face covering while on public transport in England. This includes:

  • Bus or coach
  • Train or tram
  • Ferry
  • Taxi or other private hire vehicle
  • Aircraft
  • Cable car

As well as wearing a face covering while on the transport, you also must wear it in the enclosed areas of transport hubs such as rail stations and airports. This ensures everyone’s safety so if you refuse to wear a face covering, you could find yourself with a fine. 

There are, however, some who are exempt from wearing a face covering due to their age, health condition, or disability so also be aware and be respectful as not everyone is able to wear a face covering. 


Checklists for Safer Travel

In this guide, we have included a couple checklists for safer travel that you can also find on the GOV.UK website. They are a summary of how to be safe on public transport if you must travel on them and will help you to check if you are safe to travel and will prepare you for your journey. 

  • Plan your journey
  • Can you walk or cycle to your destination?
  • Have you checked the latest travel advice from your transport operator?
  • Have you booked your travel ticket online, bought a pass or checked if contactless payment is possible?
  • Have you planned your journey to minimise busy times of day and to allow for delays?
  • Are you taking the most direct route to your destination?
  • Have you downloaded the NHS COVID-19 app, if you have a smartphone?

What to take with you:

  • A face covering – for longer journeys, take more than one face covering and a plastic bag for used face coverings
  • A plan for the journey
  • Tickets, contactless payment card or pass
  • Phone, if needed for travel updates, tickets, contactless payments
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Essential medicines
  • Tissues

Looking After Your Mental Health and Wellbeing 

During this time, it is crucial that we look after our mental health as everyone is experiencing different bouts of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness e.c.t. How we feel in our minds can have a dramatic effect on how we handle everyday life so it is important whether you are practising social distancing in the workplace, working from home, or isolating completely, you make sure that you are looking after yourself. 

Social distancing measures can easily make you feel alone, but this is definitely not the case! Many people will be feeling deflated at the moment so it is important to check in with loved ones too as you will be able to help each other. 

We have put together a list of a few tips to help you with your mental health in this time where keeping the mind healthy is just as important as the body. 

  • Try to avoid speculation and rumours

Speculation and rumours do not help with any form of anxiety around the pandemic. Making sure that any information you read about the virus comes from legitimate sources will help you to feel more in control and less anxious about what you see, hear or read. 

  • Stay connected

Staying connected with others is crucial for positive mental health. Speaking to love ones online or over the phone helps to make everything feel a little more normal. You may not be able to see them in person but catching up online will help both you and them to feel less alone. You can even play games, do quizzes and more online with others which will help you feel less anxious.  

  • Exercise and eat well

Keeping active is a great way to keep your mind healthy too. You can go out for exercise so our top tip is to use this time well by listening to music, an audiobook or podcast to keep your mind from wandering while out. 

Drinking water and maintaining a balanced diet will do wonders to making you feel better. It’s no secret that unhealthy patterns can lead to both mental health and physical health problems. 

  • Take time to relax

Make sure that you take time to yourself and try to relax whether that be by doing some colouring, reading, yoga or anything you fancy! Relaxing your mind will help you to feel less stressed and anxious about what is happening in the world. 

Trying different activities and relaxation techniques will also help you to get a good nights sleep which we all know is crucial to feeling good and being productive during the day.  

If you do find your mental health and wellbeing slipping due to social distancing measures whether that be social distancing in the workplace, the lockdown, or just generally the situation we have found ourselves then there are places that you can go either online or in person that can help.

Every Mind Matters from the NHS or the Mind charity website have great resources that hopefully will help you if you are not feeling yourself. You can also get in contact with your GP who may be able to refer you to a specialist for further support if you feel you need it. 


Summary

In short, due to the lockdown you should be working from home where possible. If this does not apply to you then yourself, your employer, and colleagues should be making sure that you follow the guidelines for social distancing in the workplace. 

After reading this guide you should have a better idea of what the guidelines are and what should be expected from you whether you are an employer or employee. The guidelines and rules are all in place to keep everyone safe so they may sometimes be frustrating but remember that it is for everyone’s safekeeping.

Also remember to stay safe when on public transport and only go out if essential to your health, or if you cannot walk or cycle to work. 

In general, it is good practice to regularly wash your hands thoroughly and be respectful of others when out and about. Keeping all of this in mind will help to reduce the risk of infection and will keep you and your family safe.  

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