Last week, the Prime Minister announced a roadmap out of lockdown and back to normality, which starts on Monday and continues until, at the earliest, Midsummers Day.
While most dates given for the four stage plan are not fixed in stone, it gives all business owners and operators the chance to plan, reopen, and re-engage the workforce. This in itself raises several health and safety points that businesses need to address.
If your business premises has been closed, and will be reopened, make sure it is in a fit condition to reopen safely. Make sure all your equipment is checked and maintained, your water is tested for Legionella, and any damage to the premises are repaired before you open.
Make sure anything that should have been completed during lockdown is done. This could be anything from PAT testing to statutory inspections, fire alarm / extinguisher maintenance and testing, tests for Legionella, etc.
Review fully your COVID-19 Secure risk assessment and procedures. Make sure you have adequate air flow. Make sure that social distancing, cleaning, hygiene, etc is suitable. Ensure that contingencies are in place for testing, vaccinations, self-isolation, and so on.
If people will still be required to work remotely, do not forget them.
Make sure all your activity risk assessments take account of infection control and mental health.
Ensure that skill fade is accounted for. Have any training qualifications expired during lockdown - for example first aid? Remember some people may not have worked for a year or more. Do refresher training on operating equipment. Do tool box talks on your COVID rules and other health and safety issues.
And remember something else - people may not have seen each other for a while. Give employees time to catch up, talk, open up to their problems, stresses and concerns. Many people will have suffered ill health, cared for loved ones, been unable to visit relatives, and worse.
With 120,000+ deaths, there are many people who have not been able to grieve properly due to restrictions. Returning to work may be the first time that they have had chance to talk about their bereavement. Even those who have not directly suffered bereavement may act as though they have - the daily data on the news, the Government briefings etc have played a part in this.
With the vaccine roll-out continuing, encourage your employees to take it. Bear in mind that some people suffer minor symptoms for a day or so afterwards, most notably headaches or tiredness. Put plans in place for these people to avoid operating machinery, driving, or working at height temporarily.
And remember too, some people are suffering the long term effects of coronavirus. Long Covid is a serious concern that we do not yet know its full implications.
Now is the time to start thinking about all these issues. It will not be simply a case of reopening and hoping for the best. It needs planning, and planning properly. Both in the short term and beyond.
Make use of organisations that can assist you - professional bodies, local Chambers of Commerce, business network groups, your HR provider, Mental Health support groups, your Occupational Health provider, and of course, your friendly health and safety practitioners.
Together we can get businesses and the economy back up and running. Together we can do this safely and healthily.
Good luck - and remember to look after yourself as you do all this!