For a few months now many workers, especially office-based staff, have been working from home.

Quite a number of these, about 30% according to a recent news report, actually prefer working from home and have stated that they would like to continue like this.

We have spoken to company bosses who are quite happy for their staff to work from home with many saying things such as

  • “As long as they get the work done, I don’t care where they work from” –
  • “Well they all have their work’s laptop at home, so I can’t see any problem” –
  • “With more people working from home and only coming in for meetings, we are looking to move into smaller offices. That is going to be a saving”.

It would seem that many people, employers and employees alike, are considering working from home to become the ‘new normal’.

So, if you are a company owner, director or even the Health & Safety Manager you are going to have to look at the new demands that will be placed upon you.

Remember, even when they are working from home, you have a duty of care to your employees.

Have you got a “Working from Home Policy”?  I have asked several employers this question recently and in most cases the answer is NO, should I have one?  If you are having employees working from home, you MUST have one.

Who does this policy need to cover? It must apply to all employees, irrespective of seniority, tenure or working hours. It must include all directors, managers and employees including casual or agency staff, trainees, fixed term staff and volunteers.

It should include Working Hours.  Employees should be working for you in line with the hours they are being paid for.  They must be taking adequate rest breaks during the day, as set out in their contract of employment.

Communication with the office including email, telephone and video calls must be considered because, even though they are at home it is essential that they still feel like part of the team. You are responsible for their mental well-being remember!

Workplace Equipment If your staff require equipment to work, such as a laptop, then your duty is to ensure that they have one. But it doesn’t stop there.

  • Do they have a proper workstation to work from with a suitable work chair such as they have in the office?
  • Have they had a DSE assessment carried out on their set up?
  • Have they got enough electrical socket outlets or are they going to have to have extension leads to run everything.
  • Has the electrical circuit been inspected recently and is the electrical equipment PAT tested?

Extension leads can cause trip hazards and, of course, can lead to fires caused by overloading. Which leads us to>>

Have your employees got suitable fire extinguishers in their home office? Yes, I know that this is their private home, but they are using electrical equipment that you have supplied so you have that duty of care.

Your employees MUST check with their home and contents insurance providers to see

  • If they have adequate cover for working at home.
  • Does their policy cover the use of any of their own equipment being used for work.
  • Does it cover them using your equipment at home?

If there is an additional premium required, then it is the duty of the employer to cover this.

There should be a section in your policy to cover security. For example:

  • to store confidential papers securely.
  • disposal of confidential papers must be covered
  • and they must comply with your data protection policy

So those are the areas that need to be covered in the Working from Home Policy.

Another challenge that is likely to be posed by the “New Normal” is the use of private vehicles for business.

Now that more people are home-working and not doing as much mileage as they were pre Covid, those with company cars may be thinking twice about the cost-v-benefit of such a luxury.

Pre Covid they often drove many miles to attend meetings or to visit clients. But in this ‘New Normal’ they are having these meetings by Zoom/Skype or similar and so not using the company car. They are however, still being taxed for it even though the benefit has dwindled.

In a poll carried out for a magazine found that 68% of respondents said that they were looking to return the company car and use their own car for business, what is generally referred to as being ‘Grey fleet’ drivers.

Businesses have the same duty of care to ensure all vehicles used for business purposes are safe and legal to be on the road. That is regardless as to whether it’s travelling to a meeting or nipping to the bank, the legislation applies across the board.

This means that every employee needs a valid driving licence and that every vehicle needs to be properly taxed, with a valid MOT (if over three years old) and serviced regularly. This was easily controlled with a Company car but is it as easy controlled for a grey fleet car? Grey fleet vehicles are generally older, have unknown history and are often not viewed as part of fleet managers’ responsibility. These older and likely riskier vehicles could therefore fall within the Health & Safety team’s area of accountability.

Insurance – Additionally, businesses must also check the employee’s insurance to make sure it includes business use cover. Many people are unaware of this and haven’t taken out this cover.

At the very minimum employees should have Class 1 business insurance that covers their journeys during working hours.

The Health and Safety Executive indicates that more than a quarter of all road traffic incidents may involve somebody who is driving as part of their work, so businesses need to take a proactive approach.

Work-related driving that becomes unsafe or illegal can result in substantial legal, reputational and financial repercussions for businesses if driver and vehicle documents have not been checked and recorded.

If a driver, who fails to meet the minimum requirements is involved in an accident while working then the consequences are considerable.

In the event of an incident, an organisations practises come under scrutiny and any investigation which finds a poor or non-existent process of checking drivers is likely to expose a failure in duty of care.

This could result in sizeable fines as well as claims for compensation made by those who suffer injury or damage as a result of employer negligence.

It’s important to keep in mind that fines for conviction under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 are based on the size and turnover of the business.

Fines start at £300,000 and there is no maximum limit. In the worst cases, under the Corporate Manslaughter Act, employers, including senior managers and directors could find themselves facing prosecution and even prison.

What systems and procedures do you have in place for ensuring that your drivers and their vehicles are safe and legal?

Businesses have had to adapt considerably in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, not least in terms of how they maintain a hygienic space. Regardless of the industry, hygiene is now of paramount importance to protect both staff and customers alike. But what is required in order to safeguard a commercial space and how can SMEs protect their premises from the risk of bacteria

When choosing products for cleaning, it’s important that they have disinfecting properties which meet BS EN standards. Make sure that the product labels have one of two codes: BS EN 1276 or BS EN 12697 – this will ensure that they’re able to tackle bacteria properly and fully disinfect the space.

You should also note the instructions on the packaging, as some products require a certain amount of contact time with a surface in order to clean it efficiently.

While we’re all aware that washing our hands regularly is vital to keep the virus at bay, it’s also a good idea to install antibacterial gel stations around the premises so that staff or customers can keep their hands clean throughout the day with ease.

Make sure that you have gel stations installed at entrances and exits to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as at key points throughout the office.

Touching surfaces or products is a big problem in terms of tackling COVID-19 – in fact, it’s one of the primary ways in which the virus is spread. SMEs need to minimise the need for staff, customers or visitors to touch things, whether it’s office equipment, products or doors and windows.

This can include leaving doors open so that handles don’t need to be touched to enter or exit a room, as well as using hands-free antibacterial gel dispensers so that people can safely keep their hands free from bacteria.

Hands-free washrooms are also a great idea, such as sensor-driven taps or hand dryers and removing flush handles on toilets, so that the risk of bacterial spread is reduced.

The outcome of the pandemic is a new normal and it can be easy for people to forget the rules and regulations, whether it’s wearing a mask, keeping their distance from other people or washing their hands more regularly than they would normally.

Having physical signs around the office can help remind people to stay safe and will safeguard the business against the spread of the virus. It’s also a good idea to have this messaging on your website and social media channels as a further caution to protect customers and third parties.

While you no doubt had a thorough cleaning schedule in place before, now is the time to reassess when and how your premises are cleaned so that you can ensure it is maintained more regularly. Bacteria can spread alarmingly quickly, so staying on top of a cleaning schedule that ensures surfaces are kept free from germs is of paramount importance.

This means disposing of cloths or mops once they’ve been used, using disinfectant products and using PPE when cleaning to avoid transmitting the disease, especially if cleaning an area that someone with COVID-19 has come into contact with.

Final thoughts

This New Normal is going to take some getting used to and it may be here for a long time yet. But by making a few amendments to how a business is run, you can protect visitors and staff while still operating your company efficiently.

Here at Wilkins Safety Group we have developed various support services, training and provide advice to SMEs to try and make meeting the New Normal as easy as possible. – See below

The Wilkins Safety Group’s NEW COVID-19: Assurance Assessment Service

The Wilkins Safety Group are now offering an assurance assessment service that focuses on five elements of business recovery and will help support your business take stock of the present situation and then grow in the future

We are offering professional support, guidance and independent assurance to enable companies to develop and ensure they have suitable Covid controls within the workplace.

Our technical support can provide you with the independent assurance that your COVID-19 workplace safety, health and environmental arrangements are in accordance with current guidance and best practice as a minimum standard.

We can also support you as the guidelines, requirements and circumstances change to ensure your workplace remains as safe and healthy as is reasonably practicable.

The following five factors provide the framework for the consultancy services:

  1. Organisational context (risk management)
  2. Operational processes (risk assessment, safe operating procedures, etc)
  3. Health and wellbeing
  4. Stakeholder engagement
  5. Facilities and workplace health and safety (workplace adjustments, etc).

Our technical support includes:

  • Risk assessment reviews

  • Support for workplace procedure development and reviews (including social distancing, health surveillance, workplace control measures, emergency planning, PPE, etc)

  • Health and well-being guidance (including mental health factors)

  • Communication and information

  • Leadership and behavioural factors

  • Assurance auditing.

Perhaps the most critical aspect of a return to the workplace. Compliance with statutory regulations has not been removed during the pandemic, therefore we can provide guidance in respect to this matter for clients who are seeking to return to offices, shops, factories or warehouses

Revised procedures and arrangements may well require physical adjustments within the workplace in respect of access, egress, emergency event management, use of equipment, PPE, cleaning regimes, use of elevators, movement and flow of persons within the premises, waste management, social distancing controls, welfare and hygiene controls, etc

Typical support would include review and/or development of workplace controls, processes, based upon relevant risk assessment outcomes and relevant national and sector guidelines.

As part of this support we will provide you with Your COVID-19 Five-Point Action Plan and, on completion, your Covid 19 Secure Certificate

This is new territory for all of us, but for almost 30 years we’ve been a trusted guide to excellent health, safety and environmental management. Our experience will help you achieve the very highest health, safety and wellbeing standards, so you can protect your people, your reputation and your bottom line.

To find out more about how we can help you plan for the return to work, please contact us on 01458 253682 or email.