Coronavirus: Possible post-lockdown workplace rules revealed

Coronavirus: Possible post-lockdown workplace rules revealed

An employee is seen behind a protective screen as they serve a customer in a Pret a Manger store that has reopened for delivery and takeaway in Wimbledon on 1 May

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Reuters

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Protective screens are among alternatives to social distancing suggested in a draft document

Reduced hot-desking and alternatives to social distancing where it is not possible are among measures being considered to let workplaces reopen.

A draft government plan to ease anti-coronavirus restrictions, seen by the BBC, also urges employers to minimise numbers using equipment, stagger shift times and maximise home-working.

The prime minister will reveal his “roadmap” out of lockdown on Sunday.

Unions are concerned about companies’ ability to source protective kit.

Leaders say efforts to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers could lead to businesses competing with the NHS for scarce and essential supplies.

The BBC has seen one of several draft documents, which says additional hygiene procedures, physical screens and the use of protective equipment should be considered where maintaining distancing of 2m (6ft) between workers is impossible.

However, the section marked PPE contains only a promise that “more detail” will follow.

Director general of the British Chambers of Commerce Adam Marshall called for “clear guidance” on whether employers needed to provide PPE.

“No business wants to be competing with the health services or with the care sector, for example, for PPE,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

A UK-wide procurement strategy would be “hugely important” in order to source and manufacture the necessary PPE, he added.

Reopening the economy will take more than modified working practices.

Workers must be confident they are safe.

Companies must be confident they won’t be sued if they get it wrong.

And consumers must be confident enough to spend money.

The government’s repetitive message to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives has been largely effective. Changing the record will be difficult.

Read more from Simon here.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC Breakfast protective screens, like those used at some supermarket checkouts, PPE and coronavirus testing could be used to make people feel safe in workplaces if it was “vital” they worked close to each other.

Many companies have been shut since widespread limits on everyday life were imposed on 23 March, in a bid to limit the effects of the virus’s spread on the NHS.

Ministers are obliged to review those restrictions by Thursday.

How might workplaces reopen with social distancing?

Finnebrogue Artisan, which makes sausages and bacon in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, has kept operating throughout the pandemic.

Director Declan Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “totally doable” for other companies to reopen.

He said they had introduced physical markers to keep staff 2m apart, take workers’ temperatures when they arrive, and issue them with masks and visors on the factory floor.

Doors are kept open wherever possible to reduce the number of things staff need to touch, and social distancing marshals ensure the rules are being followed.

Workers are given an extra £1 an hour as a social distancing bonus for sticking to the rules and the company has hired more staff, segregated shifts and staggered breaks.

“There is an additional cost, we’re spending around £100,000 extra a week for these additional measures,” said Mr Ferguson. “They need to feel safe in their workplace.”

It is not yet clear when schools could return to help more parents go back to work.

However, the Guardian reports that government scientific advisers are examining the impact of letting children in their final year of primary school return to classrooms from 1 June, as part of a phased reopening of schools.

During Sunday’s daily briefing, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove stressed the UK would not be “flicking a switch and going… back to the old normal”.

He indicated there would be “a phased approach… which allows us to monitor the impact that those changes are having on public health”.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK stands at 28,446 – an increase of 315 on Saturday’s figure – with 14,248 people currently being treated in hospital.

However, admissions have fallen, along with the number of critical care beds being used.

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason says the prime minister will examine data, take advice on how much the virus has been suppressed and assess the potential consequences on infection rates of changes to rules, before setting out plans next Sunday.

Responses received last night to the draft workplace guidelines from companies, business groups and unions will also be taken into account.

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Media captionGrant Shapps said restrictions for those entering the UK were being considered.

Rail unions have written to Boris Johnson expressing concerns about plans by operators to increase the number of trains in service.

“We will not accept new working patterns that put the lives of railway workers and passengers at risk,” says the joint letter from ASLEF, RMT and TSSA.

On Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC more buses and trains would run but that asking companies to stagger employees’ working hours could help to prevent crowded commutes.

Meanwhile, Labour is urging the government to put in place a plan to stockpile face masks, in case official advice on wearing them changes.

On Friday, the prime minister said face coverings would be “useful” when lockdown restrictions were eased, although the UK government has not yet recommended members of the public wear them.

The Scottish government already recommends people use face coverings when in shops and on public transport.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves told BBC Breakfast health care workers should be the “priority” for face masks and there should not be “competition” between frontline workers and members of the public.

“I expect it would be a different sort of mask or covering for the general public and the government need to ensure they are available, accessible and distributed as well,” she added.

Mr Wallace said masks for members of the public were “under consideration” but they should be distributed to key workers first.

“In the meantime we are trying to source as many masks as possible,” he added.

In other developments:


How have you been affected by coronavirus? Share your experiences by emailing .

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist.

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