Coronavirus: Are Home Visits Still Safe For Your Field Workers?
With the number of cases of Coronavirus continuing to increase, it is clear that disruption to everyday life is inevitable. Many businesses are already paying the price, with UK business shares losing over £210 billion and more than 13% of their value already.
For firms in the UK, the priority is to protect their workforce. Many companies are following the advice of allowing their staff to work from home to help contain and reduce the threat of the virus impacting productivity. However, for businesses who rely on field workers, it is simply not feasible to allow employees and contractors to work from home. When your business relies on visiting clients in their home, how can you mitigate the risks and keep your field workers safe?
The Current Risk Of Coronavirus In The UK
According to Public Health England, the current risk in the UK (as per 1st March 2020) is low to moderate. This means that, mostly, normal life can continue in the UK. Of course, if there are any significant changes or if the number of cases dramatically increase in the UK, advice may change. Currently, the UK government say that ‘no tactics are off the table’ and they are planning for the worst-case scenario.
In terms of containment, those with Coronavirus are told to self-isolate. However, the guidance means that they are still able to receive deliveries and allow brief visitors. Those with Coronavirus should make sure they are wearing a protective face mask when receiving visitors.
This means that those field workers running deliveries and visiting properties are not the be considered at a high-risk at this stage.
How To Protect Your Field Workers From The Risk Of Coronavirus
From cleaners, other tradespeople to utility workers, there are so many field workers that may have to visit homes and workplaces as a result of their job. This means they may be at a higher risk of coming into contact with the virus if they visit a place where an infected person has been.
Current research suggests that the virus can live on surfaces for up to 72 hours, although the risk does reduce over time. Again, this can be a significant concern to field workers. While the government say there is no evidence to suggest field workers need to operate any differently, there are some proactive steps that you can take to prioritise the health of your workers.
So, what measures can your business put in place to reduce the risk?
Educate and Update
While media coverage of the health threat is extensive, lots of the information available may not be accurate and could be an exaggeration. Just because there is lots of information already available doesn’t mean you don’t have to inform your current workers yourself. Your workers need to understand the business position.
Understandably, many of your workers may have concerns. The best way to alleviate these concerns is to show that you are prioritising their health and safety and taking the threat very seriously. Education can significantly help to calm fears while refreshing your team on the best health and safety practices, such as regular handwashing.
Alongside your normal home-visit risk assessments, these should be updated to address the concerns of Coronavirus and infection. For some businesses, it may be worth adding a confirmation step to booking field workers. For example, asking if there have been any cases of Coronavirus at the premises prior to your workers visiting the site.
Again, refreshing your field workers on your safe systems of work is essential to reduce the threat in your risk assessments.
The government advises that staff who deal with members of the public should work from behind a full screen to protect themselves from airborne particles. However, this is not practical for those visiting homes and places of work.
What you can do is equip field workers with personal protective equipment.
To start with, it is recommended not to shake hands or come into close contact with your clients. If they do, regular handwashing, personal hygiene and sanitisation are advised.
Secondly, your workers may prefer to wear gloves and conduct a surface clean in their area of work before they begin. Household cleaners and disposable clothes are what are workplace legislation and practice currently recommend.
While facemasks are only advised in clinical settings, it is vital that for all PPE you do provide your workforce, you must ensure every team members knows how to correctly put on and remove (don and doff) their PPE.
Focus on Cleanliness
- Prioritise handwashing
- Train staff on ‘Catch It, Bin It, Kill It.’
- Clean and disinfect regularly touched objects and surfaces
- Remind staff to avoid touching their face with unwashed hands
- Ensure proper removal of used cleaning items.
For cleaners who may be brought in specifically for infection site clean up, there is some useful information and risk assessment advice here.
Managing Sickness And Time Off
Firms need to encourage staff to remain at home if they feel unwell. Similarly, it is important to remind employees to get in touch with their employers as soon as they feel sick. Businesses need to remember that individuals who self-isolate for 14 days who do not have a positive Coronavirus result, may not be able to acquire a sick note. Businesses should make allowances for this.
While there is no legal requirement to pay individuals when they self-isolate, businesses should confirm their position on this. Furthermore, firms need to make the decision clear to all employees. It is good practice for companies to include self-isolation within their sick-pay terms. Otherwise, employees may come to work when they are ill for fear of not being paid.
If your employees do not want to work for fear of Coronavirus, it is important to listen to all of their concerns. For genuine concerns, businesses should take all possible efforts to protect their health and safety.
If you do have workers off ill, self-isolating or refusing to work, it is crucial to manage all schedules for the productivity of the business. More importantly, to ensure high levels of customer service continue. One of the benefits of Workforce is that it is easy to manage and plan schedules through the scheduling feature. This can help to ensure the smooth running and reliability of your team during a period of potentially significant disruption.