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Covid-19 Support Hub

Here are the government coronavirus guidelines for contractors going back to the office

6-minute read

Here are the government coronavirus guidelines for contractors going back to the office
Jessie Day

Jessie Day

15 June 2020

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Are you a contractor who’s usually office-based, and planning to go back on-site? Check our guide to the latest government guidance, and the steps you can take to minimise risk.

From travelling to and from the office, meetings and shared spaces to working from home where you can, these are the government’s guidelines for returning office workers.

Are you higher risk (or living with someone who is)?

If you’re classed as clinically vulnerable or high risk, the government strongly advises that you do not work outside your home. The same applies if you live with someone who’s clinically extremely vulnerable.

Check the government’s office and contact centres advice on protecting people who are at higher risk for more information, if you’re in this category and concerned about returning to office-based work.

Do you need to self-isolate?

If you’ve been advised to self-isolate at home, you shouldn't go into the office. The government guidance includes people with Covid-19 symptoms, people who live with someone showing symptoms and/or who are advised to stay at home as part of test and trace.

What counts as an office?

The government guidelines define this category as indoor environments, such as offices, contact centres and operations rooms.

What your employer or client might do

Along with the government guidance signposted below, your employer or client may speak to you about new ways of working, to minimise coronavirus transmission risks. Here are a few things to expect:

  • encouraging remote working and connections
  • new site guidance on social distancing and hygiene
  • limiting visitors
  • revising schedules to reduce overlap between people, for example carrying out your services at night
  • new visitor records and arrangements, for example when signing or touching in

If none of these steps are being taken, or you’re concerned about going to the office, you can speak to your employer or client. Make sure you reference the current government advice for contractors. Check the help and support section below too, if you’re worried about the health and safety measures in place.

Covid-19 risk assessment

Employers will need to carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment. They have a legal responsibility to protect workers, contractors and other people from health and safety risks, so an assessment that deals specifically with coronavirus risk is essential.

Businesses with fewer than five employees (or self-employed people) don’t need to write anything down for their risk assessment. It’s a case of working out where the increased Covid-19 risks are, and taking steps to protect everyone who comes into contact with the office.

Check through our risk assessments for small businesses and the self-employed guide, and contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for more information. There’s a dedicated Covid-19 helpline on 0300 790 6787 or a new working safely enquiry form, to get you started.

Contractors: how to raise a concern

If you’re a contractor working in or visiting someone’s office, and you have a concern, you should contact your employee representative or trade union (if you have one), or HSE using the contact details above.

4 steps to minimising risk

Employers and office managers must work with everyone in their office, including contractors, to protect health and safety. Here are the government’s steps to reducing the increased risk of coronavirus, in priority order:

  • handwashing and surface cleaning more often
  • working from home if you can (if you can’t, keeping two metres apart in the office)
  • evaluating your activities – what needs to happen for the business to operate, and what can be discontinued? If you’re a contractor, it might be helpful to discuss this with your employer or client
  • assessing whether an activity can go ahead safely. You’re not obliged to work in an unsafe environment, so if you’re a contractor, think carefully and speak to your employer or client if you’re concerned, or check the help and support section below

If an activity does need to continue, you and the business should prioritise reducing the risk of infection transmission. The government advises:

  • handwashing and surface cleaning more often
  • keeping the activity as quick as possible
  • using screens or barriers to separate people
  • using back-to-back or side-to-side working (instead of face-to-face)
  • using ‘fixed teams or partnering’, to reduce contact with multiple people

Is your office’s risk assessment on display?

Businesses (especially those with over 50 employees) should share their risk assessment with staff, including contractors, and publish it on their website where possible. The government has designed this notice, which should be on display in your office.

Can you work from home?

The government has advised that anyone who can should work from home. If you’ve been asked to come into the office, you should discuss this with your employer or client, and take the following steps:

  • consider together if you being in the office is critical for business continuity, safe facility management, or regulatory requirements which can’t be done remotely
  • prepare for your employer to scale back the number of people needed in the office (bearing in mind normal safety requirements)
  • provide or request equipment or capabilities so that you can work from home safely and effectively (for example, remote access to a work system)

Arriving and leaving

If you'll be working from the office, it’s very important to minimise risks around arriving at and leaving work. They might not all be relevant to contractors, but see if you can apply any of these steps:

  • stagger your arrival and departure times with others in the office, to reduce crowding
  • walk, run, cycle or travel alone to work, where possible
  • avoid using corporate vehicles, such as minibuses
  • make use of other entry points in the office
  • take minimal belongings with you to work
  • keep to any marked one-way flow signs, or exit and entry points
  • use any handwashing or sanitiser facilities as frequently as possible

Moving around the office

The priority here is to maintain social distancing. Again, the government advises these steps to reduce your risk:

  • don’t make non-essential trips (if you can, use phones and radio systems and clean them before and after use)
  • work from one location (don’t rotate)
  • keep to any one-way flow systems
  • use the stairs where you can, and wait for the next lift if you can’t socially distance yourself
  • wash your hands or use sanitiser after operating any lift buttons, or similar
  • avoid high traffic areas

At your desk or workstation

If you work from a desk or workstation, it should allow you to socially distance wherever possible. Try not to share this space, and if you do have to, minimise the number of people. You should also avoid hot desks and/or clean and sanitise your workstation and any shared equipment, between use.

Remember, your employer has legal obligations around health and safety. So for example, if workstations can’t be kept two metres apart, they should consider whether the activity is necessary for the business to operate. If it is, they should apply the steps under four steps to minimising risk above to reduce transmission risks.

Meetings and common areas

Face-to-face meetings and common areas should be avoided, where possible. Here are the steps to follow:

  • use remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings
  • only attend or invite people to an in-person meeting if it’s absolutely necessary
  • if you’re in a meeting, stay two metres apart
  • avoid sharing pens and other objects
  • use hand sanitiser
  • hold meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated areas, where possible
  • keep an eye on any social distancing signage
  • avoid locker rooms, changing areas, break rooms and canteens if you can’t stay two metres apart
  • take your break outside, where possible
  • bring your own food to work, where possible
  • move seating to avoid face-to-face interactions
  • stay on-site, where possible, and maintain social distancing off-site

Wearing masks and PPE

For up-to-date guidance on masks and other equipment, check the government’s office and contact centres advice on personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings.

Help and support

If you’re a contractor returning to the office during this time, it’s important that you’re confident about your workspace, working with your employer or client to minimise the risks.

For guidance, help and further support, check and contact the resources and organisations below:

Government:

  • Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19): offices and contact centres
  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
  • Coronavirus support from Business Representative Organisations and Trade Associations
  • Joining a trade union

Simply Business:

  • Covid-19 news directory
  • Coronavirus: support for small businesses and the self-employed

Professional organisations:

  • UNISON (Private contractors)
  • IPSE (The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed)

Are you planning to go back into the office soon? Let us know your questions and concerns in the comments below.

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