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Continuing your business safely:

COVID-19 considerations for offices

Good risk management practices in protecting your people and your business will continue to be crucial as restrictions, regulations and guidance change, with each phase of the pandemic inevitably creating new and different challenges.

It’s important to recognise that COVID-19 will have an impact on business operations and activities for some time to come.

Where activities are either scaled up or scaled down there can be increased risk of:

  • fire / explosion
  • machinery / plant damage or breakdown
  • injury
  • water damage

These may be caused by a variety of factors including delayed maintenance cycles and frequent start up / shut down periods. 

Your business operations and activities may continue to change; for example, office layout, staffing and capacity, move to more or less employees working from home etc. Where these changes introduce new hazards or exposures, risk management measures should all be re-assessed and adapted. This may include:

  • safe systems of work / working procedures
  • training
  • cleaning / disinfection / sanitisation
  • fire and security protection systems

Reviewing your existing plans and actions will continue to be critical and provide for a safe working structure in which you can continue to operate.

If, however, you’re unable to maintain a safe working environment, then those operations should be postponed until corrective measures can be put in place.

The following provides a checklist of key considerations to safely continue your office operations:

Observe and enforce COVID-19 workplace restrictions in line with government regulations and guidance, including those relevant to:

  • travel to work
  • welfare provision
  • cleaning, disinfection and sanitisation
  • social distancing
  • staggered working hours and breaks
  • ventilation

Regulation and guidance requirements vary across the UK nations. Guidance is available from:

UK Government including COVID Secure guidance, and Public Health England

Welsh Government and Public Health Wales

Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland

Northern Ireland Government

Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Information relating to testing and vaccinations can be found on our testing and vaccination page and further information can also be found via the above referenced government websites.

Continue to review your risk assessments and actions including safe systems of work / working procedures to ensure they remain relevant to the operation of your business and that you’re taking all the appropriate measures to ensure a safe working environment for your employees, including those that continue to work from home.

Where your business operations and activities have changed, then new risk assessments should be completed and the results and consequent actions shared with your employees (including any temporary and agency personnel) and any visitors, contractors and other occupants or users where premises are shared.

The direct impact of COVID-19 and associated regulation and guidance will continue to be relevant to any decisions you make around the potential for transmission in the workplace, including those with symptoms not attending the workplace and isolating, ventilation, social distancing, enhanced cleaning, disinfection and sanitisation, hand washing and hygiene, the use of face coverings and testing.

You will also need to consider the ongoing associated impact of COVID-19 as part of your risk assessments and safe systems of work / working procedures:

  • Do you have employees out of the business or the potential for increased absenteeism that could leave you with skills and operational gaps? Do contingency plans address this issue? 
  • Is there a need to upskill existing employees? If so, who does it, how do you confirm it’s been done and ensure that those upskilled are competent and understand their responsibilities?
  • Are all employees aware of safe systems of work and control measures identified through risk assessments for the tasks they are being asked to complete / or could be asked to complete?
  • Are arrangements for supervision adequate?
  • Is lone or isolated working accommodated? If it is, has an appropriate Policy, risk assessments and safe systems of work been implemented, communicated and tested? Are arrangements in place for regular review? Further support can be found at lone and mobile workers.
  • Where absenteeism has the potential to increase workloads, has this been considered as part of the risk assessment process, ensuring that tasks can still be completed safely and without additional risks to the health and safety of employees or contractors for example?
  • Do risk assessments and safe systems of work consider maintenance activities in respect of your premises, machinery, plant and equipment and vehicles?
  •  Machinery interventions (servicing, maintenance, setting and cleaning for example) present particular challenges, with supervision or arrangements for machinery isolation and lock-off (including guarding) often sighted to play a part in accidents and incidents. Are relevant employees and / or contractors therefore aware of all the arrangements for machinery isolation and lock-off? Further support can be found on machinery guarding and intervention.
  • Have emergency arrangements including response procedures been considered as part of the review process, including for example first aid and fire warden coverage? These should be periodically reviewed to verify they are up to date and ensure there is adequate coverage for assigned positions on all shifts. Further support can be found on emergency procedures.
Additional support on this topic can also be found at Risk assessments and Safe systems of work.

Fire, security and COVID-19 specific precautions should be included in your review, implementing changes and / or enhancements where necessary to maintain an appropriate level of protection.

Specific considerations may for example include:

  • Home working
    - continue to keep under review your policies and procedures specifically for the support of home and lone working, including arrangements for the provision of suitable work conditions
    - ensure that IT and cyber security policies and procedures continue to reflect changes in work arrangements, acknowledging the increased potential for security breaches when individuals are working from home / unsupervised
  • Returning to / changing arrangements at the office
    - a strategy to maintain social / physical distancing
    - flexible working to facilitate staggered start and finish times and limiting the numbers of people on the premises at any given time
    - working closely and collaboratively with landlords and other occupants in multi-tenure buildings to ensure consistency of approach in common areas
    - limiting the number of entry and exit points with separate entry and exit points if possible
    - limiting the numbers of people permitted to use communal areas, rest rooms and other welfare facilities at any time
    - designated safe outdoor spaces for rest breaks, if practical
    - encouraging employees to bring their own food
    - social distancing coodinators / champions to highlight social distancing arrangements
    - encouraging employees and potential visitors to participate in meetings, training etc using remote conference or video calls as an alternative to face-to-face meetings
    - limiting numbers using lifts
    - markings and signage to assist with social distancing arrangements, taking into account traffic management and pedestrian segregation; markings and signage in car parks, reception areas and lifts may be useful to provide an early reminder
    - maintenance of suitable ventilation
    - liasing with nearby / proximate premises and / or other building occupants to assist with possible shared parking and arrangements for social distancing in communal areas
    - appropriately marked one-way systems in car parks and communal areas to help maintain social distancing
    - barriers or screens at reception areas and to separate people from each other
    - welcome monitors / screens, and individual PC monitors / screens, laptops and tablets to remind employees and visitors of on-site social distancing, hand washing and hygeine requirements
    - fixed teams or partnering to reduce the extent of contact with other persons
    - keep the layout of office space and rest areas under review to reduce the potential for face-to-face contact, with back-to-back or side-to-side working preferred
    - cleaning stations at entrance and exit points and other strategic locations with signage to remind employees and visitors of the importance of washing hands and hygeine
    - removal / restriction of touch points where practical i.e. vending machines and other canteen equipment for general employee use
    - provide updated information for remote and lone workers who are involved in work away / sales related activities and driving for example.
  • Health and wellbeing
    - ensure you continue to monitor the wellbeing of those working from home and stay connected with them
    - consider the health and wellbeing of those returning to work and any specific anxieties individuals may have. Communication is key, and it may be beneficial for those employees who have already returned to share experiences (travel, the office environment etc.) with those who will be expected to return at a later date.
Allow sufficient time in your planning to recommission and / or service plant that may have been dormant or operating at reduced capacity in line with all standard operating procedures (SOPs), manufacturer’s guidelines and established planned preventative maintenance arrangements. 

Ensure inspection, testing and maintenance procedures for your site(s), plant, machinery and equipment remain in place and up to date.

Specific considerations may for example include:

  • all buildings (interior and exterior communal areas for example)
  • statutory requirements (e.g. passenger lifts)
  • boundary fences
  • gates and barriers
  • utility services (including water systems and any other potential sources of legionella, power facilities and ventilation / air conditioning systems
  • fall protection systems
  • dry risers
  • plant / equipment
  • emergency back-up systems and safety equipment, to establish and correct any unsafe or abnormal conditions, such as damage, maintenance issues, leaks, faulty safety and emergency systems, improper housekeeping or storage, signs of vandalism or theft etc.
  • fire and security protection systems, including fire sprinkler / suppression systems, fire pumps, water supplies, fire alarm systems, intruder alarm systems, CCTV, access control etc
Further support can be found in our legionella bacteria pages, and equipment checklist.
Maintain an enhanced level of workplace cleaning, disinfection and sanitisation. Areas for particular focus include touch points such as washing facilities, toilet flushes and seats, door handles, push plates, hand rails, IT equipment used by employees and vehicles (company car drivers for example).

Insufficient arrangements for training or gaps in knowledge are key factors contributing to accidents during the pandemic. So, continue to ensure employees have the competence and capability for the work activities to be carried out including for new processes / machinery and plant (and that you have a sufficient number of competent employees for each task), through the necessary skills, training and licensing requirements.

This may involve the need for additional employee training programs and / or certification, instruction, information and supervision.

Remember that for returning employees and / or those with new or different roles, (re)familiarization, for site and plant for example, will be a key consideration.

Refer to your “return-to-work-policy” (where in place), as this will provide structure to ensuring your employees are ‘fit for work’, with mental health and well-being considered in addition to physical fitness. Mental health and well-being arising from anxiety about a return to work, or continued isolation due to working from home for example, require careful consideration. Further support can be found on our training page.

In reviewing your training arrangements and competency requirements, specific considerations should be given to the following:

Availability and responsibilities of key personnel

  • Senior managers
  • Human Resources Facilities Management and Health, Safety & Environmental personnel
  • First aiders
  • Fire marshals
  • Cleaning personnel (internal and externally appointed contractors)
  • Where relevant, security personnel

Formal induction / re-induction

  • Think about those who may have been away from the business for a period, role changes and upskilling and cross-skilling needs
  • Include specific expectations and controls relating to Covid-19 (social distancing measures, staggered start times, cleaning and sanitisation for example) and any amendment to your rules
  • Continue to consider the specific requirements of any vulnerable workers (young persons, new and expectant mothers, any groups identified as being at risk of severe illness as a result of Covid-19, etc)
  • Address changes in methods of work (increased or reduced home working for example) and associated expectations and challenges.

Other training needs

  • Conflict resolution / management training to address potential colleague and customer challenges in implementing or maintaining COVID-19 secure measures
  • (Re)Familiarisation of the site and plant in light of employee (including any contractors) role changes and upskilling / cross-skilling

Training delivery

  • Expectations around social and physical distancing for example, are likely to continue to impact the practicalities of training delivery, including induction and toolbox talks. This should be considered as part of the risk assessment process, including available facilities, numbers that can be safely accommodated, duration, potential barriers to communication etc.

Further support can be found on our training page.

Ensure employees, customers and other partners (contractors for example) are kept informed of what’s changed or changing, your key expectations and the measures maintained or being implemented so that they remain safe and protected. Think about:

  • What needs to be communicated and when?
  • Who do you need to communicate with - the audience?
  • What's the most effective method of communication likely to be?
  • How do you confirm and monitor understanding?
Keep your business continuity plan under review, including supply chain resilience (IT systems for example) and implement mitigation measures as appropriate, to reflect any changes to your business operation and lessons learned during the pandemic. Visit our business continuity page for further support.

The risk management information and guidance provided herein is not intended to be advice for any specific requirements.

Readers should seek further advice when dealing with their individual and particular situations. Allianz Insurance plc shall have no liability for any action taken as a result of and in reliance on the information contained in this document. The information contained in this document is correct at date of going to print and may be subject to change at any time.  All rights reserved