By Raheema Khan

There may be only one thing trickier than managing to live under lockdown – and that
is returning to normal work routines, as the country must now do.

For the vast majority of independent retailers this subject will be of some professional interest. Having been open for the most part throughout the last few months, the shopkeepers of Britain have already become practiced in many different variations of operational safety at work – and in expertly regulating social distancing while hundreds of customers visit their stores every day.

In fact, about half of the country – the bus drivers and nurses, food and factory workers, garbage collectors and police, firefighters and postal workers – never ceased turning up at work regardless of the risks and dangers.

Likewise, they too are also well-qualified to help the rest of us back to work safely thanks to the systems they have devised and improvised since March.

All these people have already proved that working safely while the coronavirus is still around is perfectly possible.

But it is understandable how some people, such as the old or those with medical conditions, are terrified of going outside, while others – young, healthy – have little care for risks and are impatient to return to normal.

They will all have to work together – so how can we do it? How can we make those two perceptions of reality fit?

Top Travel Tips

The first thing to remember is that you have to be safe getting to work before

you can be a safe at work. Travelling is also the period when, unless you are in your own vehicle, you are most likely to be in a relatively crowded space.

To deal with the problem, Transport for London has suspended tapping in with Oyster cards on buses to limit surface contamination. Britain’s rail network meanwhile is putting in place comprehensive new measures to ensure social distancing and prevent crowding.

Train operators have introduced one-way systems at stations, floor markings, and extra security staff for crowd control. Some seats have been taped off and strict cleaning measures are in place.

Peter Hendy, Chairman of Network Rail, said most people were following social distancing rules. “Our passengers are reasonable and rational. I think people understand they don’t want to be too close to people,” he said.

The new measures we have all learned over the past months apply to daily travel:

  • Wear a mask if there are people around you within the two-metre social distance – highly likely on a bus or train
  • Leave a space between seats if you can. Rush hour can make this difficult, but employers are expected to be flexible in allowing employees to alter work hours to enable commuting out of “peak crush” times
  • Try not to touch any surfaces or your face when you are aboard any transportation, and apply hand sanitiser immediately when you disembark • Once at your place of work wash your hands really well
  • And if you can, carry on working at home for as long as it is practical

You are good to go!

Like you’ve never been gone

“It feels so good to be back in the office” is a sentence many people thought they would never speak, and yet more and more are now impatient to return to their regular routines.

At Tilda in Rainham, Essex, they never stopped milling rice through the entire pandemic period. Head of external Affairs, Jon Calland, explained how the company did it and gave valuable pointers for managing Britain’s mass return to work.

“We are operating with a skeleton staff, and we have been milling rice 24/7. There’s been a huge increase in demand – it was unprecedented,” he says.

“What happens now is that we have staggered shifts, and the way handover is done minimises contact. So, we will make sure that in the canteen that not everybody is eating at the same time – that can’t happen anymore. The employees can all see that things are being done for their benefit.”

As well as procedural measures, Tilda has deployed some excellent technical ones: “We have temperature control,” says Jon. “If you come on site and you are running a temperature, you can’t come in. Those sorts of thing remind people that it’s a different situation now, and that you don’t come to work if you are ill. There’s no ‘being a trooper.’”

With these measures in place – Tilda also carries additional deep cleaning and disinfecting of all areas as a precaution – Jon says that the number of absentees Tilda has seen during the pandemic has been below average. “I think in any case in the food industry we have procedures in place that means it’s already a hygienic environment anyway. In terms of the product, nothing changed. It was in terms of the employees and needing to keep them apart.”

It’s worked well, he affirms, and the employees appreciate and cooperate despite the inconvenience. “The impression I have is that they felt that the company was pro-actively doing things, whether it’s putting markers on the ground – they know what two metres looks like, we’ve got that going round the building. We’ve got engineers and they think in terms of processes, and they were immediately thinking, ‘What can we do?’ It was really a collaborative eff ort.”

Welcome back!

Meanwhile, some companies have shuttered their premises for a few months and are now finding routes back to full trading. One was Yorkshire based bakers and confectioners Nafees Bakers & Sweets. The award-winning bakers has already boldly reopened more than 30 of their retail shops, with safety and social distancing measures to protect its employees and customers.

A spokesperson for Nafees told Asian Standard: “We run an extremely large operation and are lucky we have factory space large enough to implement 2 metre distancing which will keep our staff  safe and help us meet with all the lockdown guidelines.

“As a business we have always kept extremely high standards where hygiene has been concerned with sanitisers already in place all over our production facility, but it was imperative we stepped up a little more and had a major deep clean to restart the business with even more safety precaution than ever. We have also invested in providing training, PPE and support to all our start of whom most will be returning to work after being away for more than 7 weeks.”

During the business closure the award-winning bakery had placed more than 90 per cent of their staff  on furlough, through the coronavirus job retention scheme and used the Business Rates Relief scheme to help plan and invest further into putting in place a plan and a new way to operate their 10,000 sq feet bakery.

“The safety of our customers and workforce is our number one priority and this has been the main focal point of our plans to re-open for business.” A spokesperson said.

The gradual opening of the bakers, retail shops has helped the food manufacturer implement changes, monitor response and learn from this to encourage other stores to implement the same good practices.

All retail stores have been equipped with signage to mark 2 metre distancing, along with hand sanitisers available at all entrances and checkouts.

There is also a limit on how many customers can enter at any one time, and all customers are encouraged to order by phone and collect at given time slots.

“We are going to continue to monitor our operations and will provide our staff  continuous training and any new updates to make sure we are fully aligned with the Government rules, but also ensuring our customers and our staff  remain safe at all times”

Helping them helping you

At the start of April, the Nissan car plant in Sunderland announced the majority of its workers would be furloughed. Only those staff involved in the ‘security and integrity’ of the site, would remain at work.

You’d expect nothing less of a company with an outstanding reputation who often do great work

in the wider community. Having furloughed the majority of workers as part of the Government scheme introduced as the corona virus crisis began to worsen, it also topped up pay for those people above the threshold of the Government scheme.

Diversifying Skills

That faith was also returned when a small team of workers were given the task of using their skills to help make personal protective equipment, including visors and gowns, for the NHS.

The team working to Government specifications created aprons out of tear-resistant polythene at the Gateshead College Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation.

Adam Pennick, Nissan production directors said: “We are proud to support our healthcare workers wherever we can during this crisis. The team at the plant have done an excellent job in creating a production process in such a short space of time. It really highlights the skill and dedication we have in our team at Sunderland plant.”

Following the scheme’s success, a total of 50 – under one per cent of the 6,000 workforce recently returned to work at the plant, as part of a pilot scheme involving a new safety regime.

Those employees returning were part of the team responsible for producing both engines and transmission, otherwise known as the Nissan powertrains.

This was only done in the light of extensive risk assessments carried out in collaboration with various manufacturers around the world. The aim was to enforce measures designed to protect employees from coronavirus. And of course, the best public health advice was utilised to the maximum.

Nissan said: “Regular reviews will take place throughout each phase of this pilot, taking into account the feedback from the teams involved.

“This will inform the return to work protocols for the rest of the factory in the coming weeks.

“During this period the majority of plant employees will remain furloughed, and we are grateful for the Government support that has enabled us to take this action.

“We are currently planning a phased resumption of production in early June.”

The innovative company added it was “looking forward to resuming business” as soon as conditions in Europe allow. It has been putting in place “a comprehensive set of safety measures to protect the health and wellbeing of employees”. The firm always had the goal of steering the business through the crisis, while maintaining activities critical for business continuity.

Now, thanks to Government help one of the world’s greatest car manufacturers will now be able to seamlessly slip back into full production.

On the 26 May Health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs, the UK had reached the peak of the outbreak

– but social distancing measures were not allowed to be relaxed or changed.

Here we go

The pandemic situation in the UK is now improving – rapidly – with each passing day. We all want to get our lives and our economy back. With safety measures in place as we return to work and normality, we can speed the process further.

Denmark has already sent children back to school and halved social distancing to a metre with no apparent ill-effects. In Germany friends are eating together indoors at restaurants.

Elsewhere, in distant places such as Vietnam and Hong Kong, there have been remarkably few coronavirus deaths, and life has carried on almost as normal throughout the pandemic.

How could this possibly be? Because they had safety systems in place ready to use after earlier experiences with SARS and other viruses that hit them far harder than us.

Let’s learn from them not to worry about the last wave of the virus but to be alert and practical – let’s prepare to fight and win against the next wave or the next disease whenever it comes.

Return safely to work with the benefit of your experience, your new skills, and your alertness.

The Government has published guidance (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19) to support businesses to reopen and for workers to feel confident, safe and empowered to return to work.
If you run a business and would like to know which of the coronavirus schemes you are eligible for, you can use the business support finder tool (https://www.gov.uk/business-coronavirus-support-finder)
It takes just minutes to complete and will help you easily find support for your business.