On Sunday 10th May 2020, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson laid out the first steps in his plans to get the UK back to work and allow the economy to start moving again. This included a bold statement, saying ‘work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.’ One can only imagine the number of workers that immediately got up off their sofa and started making plans to return to their place of work at some point during the following week.
Going back to work, on the surface, sounds easy. You fall back into your usual routine and life slowly starts getting back to normal, right? For some workers, absolutely. Britain’s factories already follow strict health & safety rules, with severe penalties in place for non-compliance, and it is much easier to social distance in a larger, and more sparsely populated workspace.
But what about office workers?
For a variety of reasons, not every office worker can work from home. Under the new government guidelines, the interpretation of this could result in many office workers now returning to their place of work, where social distancing and safe working practices in light of Covid-19 will be difficult to adhere to.
Without a doubt, the service industries do need to get moving again as they are a vital part of the economy, but is this group vulnerable to the successful containment of the disease?
We only need to look at what has happened in other countries, one’s who are further into the recovery period than we are here in the UK, to see how a knee-jerk reaction could result in a false dawn, not only for economic recovery but also the health of an entire nation.
The containment of the disease in South Korea has been relatively successful, in-part due to lock down response times, but we only need to look at what happened in a call centre in the capital city, Seoul once employment restrictions were lifted in March 2020.
Picture the scene in a UK call centre; desks in close proximity, hot desking, shared kitchen and washing facilities. It sounds normal (because it is), however there is little that can be done to ensure safe social distancing is upheld.
In this particular example, the 1143 workers in this call centre went back to work, in an open plan office space across three floors – with no PPE equipment. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, and that’s what it proved to be.
Actual stats indicate that 8% of the total workforce upon going back to work had positive symptoms of Covid-19. That doesn’t sound like a lot but let’s delve into this more deeply.
As the call centre was spaced out over three floors, with little to no cross floor interaction this stat is slightly mis-leading. On one floor containing 216 employees, 94 workers tested positive – that’s just over 43% on an office that is infected – a huge figure. The dangers of the disease spreading out of the workplace then increase dramatically.
A report conducted by Korea Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (KCDC) identified that the ‘outbreak shows alarmingly that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can be exceptionally contagious in crowded office settings such as a call centre.” In short, the infection is more likely to spread in groups of people in close proximity to each other. UK offices take heed.
As an employer, what do you need to do to prepare for going back to work?
Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) guidelines for safe working practice, have asked employers three questions that must be answered ‘yes’ in order for the workplace to open to its employees once again:
- Are you in a community requiring significant mitigation?
- Will you be able to limit non-essential employees to those from the local geographic area?
- Do you have protective measure for employees at higher risk?
Best practice would include conducting a thorough risk assessment, providing training for staff, reviewing and updating current policies and most importantly communicating effectively with the workforce.
Further guidelines include the implementation of hygiene practices, regular cleaning routines, spaced out seating and restricting the use of shared items and spaces (amongst many others), but we are going to look in particular at how the use of Personal Protective Equipment (more commonly known as PPE) can play a big part in ensuring businesses not only adhere to these guidelines, but set a precedent for safe working practice in the future.
PPE – we’ve all heard about it, but are we all using it?
To avoid a situation like the one in South Korea, business owners in the UK need to implement the safe use of PPE equipment into their workplaces to create a safe and healthy working environment. Such equipment is in regular use in healthcare sectors and factory settings, but not in offices.
It’s not rocket science what needs to be supplied, and items as simple as face masks and sanitising equipment could be the way forward for many, but this does come at a cost, and quite possibly a cost that hasn’t been budgeted for.
What about supply chains and quality?
It’s a well known fact that there is a shortage of PPE equipment manufacturers in the UK. Combine that with horror stories of unsafe PPE equipment being imported from abroad and you have very uncertain or unwilling buyers.
It’s also a sellers’ market. Demand is high yet products are scarce, therefore price is paid at a premium. If you don’t know what you’re buying, and who you are buying from this could prove a costly mistake.
At Mosaic International, we have taken it on ourselves to ease supply chain issues for PPE equipment. A lot of businesses we have spoken to are put off due to paying a high price for a product that may have inferior quality, not to mention shipping costs so are therefore unwilling to make an investment.
Through our global network of supply chains, we are putting our money where out mouth is to import a significant amount of PPE equipment that will be suitable and of the right quality for the staff of UK workplaces.
This means the risk is on us, and not you. We’ve done our research, tested our supply chains and have a product that we have complete confidence in.
It’s only a matter of time before UK workers are back at full capacity. Whatever the new normal may be, this will include employees working in close proximity to one another in open plan office space. The office may need to evolve to become the workplace of the future, with remote working becoming a more regular part of the working experience for many but until then we all need to adapt to enable a safe working environment, and most importantly to reduce the risk of a second wave of infections once further restrictions are lifted.
As always, Mosaic International is here to help. Whilst this may not be our main focus in terms of building international trade links between businesses in the UK and abroad, our experience and knowledge of supply chains and importing goods has allowed us to adapt our service offering in order to provide a key service to local businesses at this moment in time.
If you are putting plans in place to ease your employees back into the workplace, having the correct PPE and company policies in place is essential. Feel free to drop us a line on 07885 874873 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.