UPDATED: Boris Johnson has outlined the first tentative steps to reopen small business, including the phased reopening of shops and hospitality.
- Shops will be able to reopen on June 1
- Some hospitality services will be allowed to re-open from July 4
The government has published its document fleshing out prime minister Johnson’s nationwide address, which goes deeper into its strategy to help reopen small business.
Shops planning to reopen post June 1 could badge themselves “COVID-19 Secure” by following guidelines shortly to be published by government after consultation with business groups and others.
By July, the government would like to see remaining small businesses that have been forced to close, including hairdressers and beauty salons, pubs and hotels and cinemas also reopen.
But any phased re-opening of small businesses will be reversed if the rate of coronavirus infection creeps back upwards – as is already being seen in Germany and South Korea, which have loosened up their own lockdowns.
Reopen small business
Mr Johnson said: “We must also recognise that this campaign against the virus has come at colossal cost to our way of life. We can see it all around us in the shuttered shops and abandoned businesses and darkened pubs and restaurants.”
From Wednesday, May 13, workers who cannot work from home, such as those in construction or manufacturing, are encouraged to back to work providing they avoid public transport. Sectors specifically mentioned in the government’s 50-page Our Plan to Rebuild document include food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories.
And the government will be advising businesses how to prepare for customers with social distancing measures in place. Last month the British Retail Consortium outlined social distancing measures for shops.
Andrew Goodacre, CEO of independent retailers association Bira, said: “We now know when we can expect more of the shops to re-open – June at the earliest.
“Between now and then we need to see the final draft of the government guidance so retailers can prepare to keep their employees and customers safe.”
He added: “We know the social distancing will reduce footfall and sales, and so we must hear that there will be more support to help retailers through a very difficult trading period.”
Jonathan Geldart, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: “Directors know that the battle with this virus is far from over, and they want to play their part in preventing a second spike, which would extend the economic pain.
“As the government begins to ask more people to return to work, it’s vital that the guidance is clear so that companies can plan how to return safely. As people with ultimate legal responsibility, directors need to have confidence that it’s safe, and that if they act responsibly they won’t be at undue risk. Businesses should consult with their people to put in place robust policies, which in many cases might not be an overnight process.”
Covid-19 Secure – what does it mean?
The government has published documents covering eight business sectors setting out what small business owners can do to ensure their businesses protect employees and customers against Covid-19.
They call this being “Covid-19 secure” and small businesses can display badging that they have followed guidance. Partly it is a reassurance exercise for employees and customers.
The eight business sectors covered are:
Construction and other outdoor work
Factories, plants and warehouses
Labs and research facilities
Offices and contact centres
Other people’s homes
Restaurants offering takeaway and delivery
Shops and branches
5 key points for your small business
#1 – Work from home, if you can
All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home.
Where workers are required to stay away from their home, centrally log the stay and make sure any overnight accommodation meets social distancing guidelines.
#2 – Carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment
All businesses with over 50 employees are expected to conduct a Covid-19 risk assessment. If possible, small businesses should publish the result of the risk assessment on their website. This assessment will also decide if your company needs special PPE equipment. However, most business won’t require this provision.
#3 – Help staff maintain 2 metres social distancing
Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2 metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one–way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.
#4 – Manage transmission risk where people cannot sit 2 metres apart
Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.
#5 – Reinforcing cleaning processes
Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points. Wedging doors open can also help reduce contact points when entering or exiting different workspaces.
What if I can’t meet all the 5 key points?
Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity is necessary for the business to operate, and if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff.
Further mitigating actions include:
- Increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
- Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
- Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
- Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’
- Finally, if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then you will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment
How to make your shop Covid-19 secure
All retail businesses and stores must first assess how many customers can fit into their premises while observing the 2m social distancing rules.
Other general measure to ensure a Covid-19 secure shop or café include:
- Limit the number of customers on the shop floor, paying special attention to areas that are likely to get congested
- Suspend or reduce customer services that contravene social distancing guidelines. Consider having fixed working pairs that can help assist with heavy objects rather involving the customer in the process
- Have a flexible attitude to queue management, one-way flow and social distancing procedures, adapt if certain areas are growing congested
- Encourage customers to shop alone where possible, unless they need specific assistance
- Remind customers who are accompanied by children that they are responsible for supervising them at all times
- Changes to entry and exit points must take account of those who might need special assistance, including disabled shoppers
- Use outside premises for queuing where available and safe
- Regularly clean work surfaces and spaces, with particular focus on busy areas
- Barriers between customer and cashier
- Communicate guidelines to all customers through signage or vocal reminders
- Disinfect baskets and trolleys
- As far as possible, where workers are split into teams or shift groups, fixing these teams or shift groups so that where contact is unavoidable, this happens between the same people
- If you are cleaning after a known or suspected case of Covid-19 then you refer to the specific guidance
How to make your clothes shop Covid-19 secure
- Consider very carefully whether fitting rooms should be open, given the challenges in operating them safely
- Clean them very frequently, typically between each use
- Create procedures to manage clothes that have been tried on, for example delaying their return to the shop floor
- Limit contact between customers and colleagues during fitting, for example by suspending fitting assistance
- Customer handling of merchandise should be kept to a minimum, consider different display methods, new signage or rotation of high-touch stock
- Put in place picking-up and dropping-off collection and returns points where possible
How to make your café or retail shop Covid-19 secure
- Frequently clean work areas and equipment between uses, using your usual cleaning products. Frequent cleaning objects and surfaces that are touched regularly such as self-checkouts, trolleys, coffee machines, or staff handheld devices, and making sure there are adequate disposal arrangements
- Clear workspaces and removing waste and belongings from the work area at the end of a shift
- On premises café seating areas must be closed and all hot and cold food purchased must be consumed off premises
How to make your takeaway or restaurant Covid-19 secure
The government’s advice is relatively standard in terms of workplace controls. There are some crucial things to note:
- Only delivery and takeaway services are permitted. That means any indoor or outdoor seating must be closed and businesses are encouraged to keep customers outside of their physical premises if or where possible
- Rigorous cleaning techniques should be instituted. This includes the use of single use condiment packets or condiment containers cleaned after every usage and providing hand sanitiser
- Contact with kitchen staff should also be kept to a minimum and that extends to amount of people allowed access to the kitchen as well
- Drivers and kitchen staff should ensure they have washed their hands before the transference of food can take place and this should be done at a distance with as minimal amount of contact as possible
- Physical barriers are a good way to enforce social distancing and designated pass–over stations should be established for delivery drivers and other staff
- Guidance and awareness are key to the government’s Covid-19 secure strategy, signage, guidelines, announcements and warnings are crucial. Staff must be made aware of safe handwashing techniques, social distance spacing, and cleaning standards. Customers must also be communicated to clearly about where to wait for takeaways, how service will be conducted and payment procedures
- Customers should be urged to use card, contactless or online payments through an app or website to order food, reducing contact and transmission of material between customer and worker
- Keep each person to a separate workstation, especially during food preparation
- Stagger work breaks, minimalise contact between staff and other people on breaks
The government says there is no evidence of Covid-19 spreading on food packaging but says that you still have to be cautious.
How to make your office Covid-19 secure
- A good place to start is reviewing layouts and processes to allow people to work further apart from each other
- Consider using floor tape to mark areas to help workers keep to a 2m distance
- Where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, using screens to separate people from each other
- Manage occupancy levels to enable social distancing
- Avoid use of hot desks, however, for instance in call centres or training facilities where this might not be possible, clean workstations between different occupants including shared equipment
- Frequently clean objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, such as door handles and keyboards, and making sure there are adequate disposal arrangements
The government has laid out some key areas for offices to focus their efforts on. These include:
- Use remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings, if possible
- Only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and should maintain 2m separation throughout
- Avoid sharing pens and other objects
- Providing hand sanitiser in meeting rooms
- Holding meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms whenever possible
- For areas where regular meetings take place, use floor signage to help people maintain social distancing
Lunch and work breaks
- Stagger break times to reduce pressure on break rooms or canteens
- Use safe outside areas for breaks
- Create additional space by using other parts of the workplace or building that have been freed up by remote working
- Install screens to protect staff in receptions or similar areas
- Provide packaged meals or something similar o avoid fully opening staff canteens
- Encourage workers to bring their own food
- Reconfigure seating and tables to maintain spacing and reduce face-to-face interactions
- Encourage staff to remain on-site and, when not possible, maintaining social distancing while off-site
Delivers and office supplies
- Restrict non-business deliveries, for example, personal deliveries to workers
- Identify areas where people directly pass things to each other, for example office supplies, and finding ways to remove direct contact, such as using drop-off points or transfer zones
Office visitors and communication
- Determine if schedules for essential services and contractor visits can be revised to reduce interaction and overlap between people, for example, carrying out services at night
- Maintain a record of all visitors, if this is practical
- Provide clear guidance on social distancing and hygiene to people on arrival with signage or visual aids and before arrival, by phone, on your website or by email
- Establish host responsibilities relating to Covid-19 and providing any necessary training for people who act as hosts for visitors.
- Review entry and exit routes for visitors and contractors to minimise contact with other people
- Provide clear, consistent and regular communication to improve understanding of Covid-19 security measures
How to handle deliveries and orders
- Companies are advised to overhaul their current pick-up and drop-off collection points, introduce spaces where keeping social distancing measures is possible and make sure they are followed with signage and markings
- Electronically processing deliveries with a pre-booking system can also help reduce contact at security points
- The government also says that, when safe to do so, single employees should unload or load vehicles
- By altering frequency of deliveries, such as ordering a larger quantity of goods less often, can help reduce contact with workers outside of your business
The business department has underlined the importance of properly ventilated spaces in each of its eight reports.
- Check whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems
- Most air conditioning system do not need adjustment, however where systems serve multiple buildings or you are unsure, advice can be sought from your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers
- Opening windows and doors frequently can also help improve ventilation of buildings and offices