25 June, 2020
Following the long-awaited announcement that businesses in the hospitality sector can prepare to reopen from 4 July 2020, the government has published lengthy guidance to address safe working within the 'visitor economy' during coronavirus.
In terms of what is meant by 'visitor economy' the guidance is expressly aimed at hotels and guest accommodation, indoor and outdoor attractions as well as business events and consumer shows.
What then does the guidance provide?
The guidance makes it clear that a risk assessment must be carried out to assess and manage the risks of COVID-19, and in particular the risks to workers and customers. The guidance suggests that businesses ought to do everything reasonably practicable to minimise risks by taking preventative measures, whilst recognising that the risk of COVID-19 cannot be completely eliminated.
The guidance sets out a number of steps to be worked through including increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning and making every reasonable effort to comply with social distancing guidelines. Although the 2-metre rule has not formally been relaxed by the government yet, the visitor economy guidance provides that where a 2-metre distance is not viable, a distance of 1 metre can instead be maintained, provided that risk mitigation is considered. In this regard the guidance suggests that where social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, businesses first ought to consider whether the activity needs to continue for the business to be able to operate, and if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission. The guidance lists the following as further mitigating actions:
Importantly, the guidance makes it clear that no one should be forced to work in an unsafe work environment.
The results of any risk assessment must be shared with the workforce and where possible it should be published on the company website. There is an expectation that businesses with over 50 workers will do this.
The guidance contains a number of steps on managing customers, visitors and contractors. These include assessing the number of customers that can reasonably enable social distancing within any space, taking into consideration total floorspace, pinch points and busy areas. For indoor and outdoor attractions, and business event venues, consideration ought to be given to limiting the number of customers/crowd density at any one time. In this regard businesses should consider the implementation of timed ticketing or asking customers to book ahead where possible. Businesses should look at reconfiguring indoor and outdoor seating and tables to maintain social distancing guidelines between customers of different households (as above, where 2 metres is not viable, 1m with risk mitigation is deemed acceptable). The guidance recommends reviewing how customers move through and around a venue and how the flow of customers might be adjusted to reduce congestion and contact, for example - queue management or one-way flow systems. Where activities involve the passing of any objects it may be prudent to put in place pick up and drop off collection points, rather than passing goods hand to hand. Customers should also be encouraged to use hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities on entry to a venue.
The guidance suggests that businesses should support the NHS Test and Trace service by keeping a temporary record of customers and visitors for 21 days. The government are designing an online booking system for businesses to use if they do not already operate in this way, with further details of this to be released shortly.
The guidance provides that where possible social distancing must be maintained, including while arriving and departing from work, while in work and also when travelling between sites. In terms of arriving and departing from work the guidance suggests staggering arrival and departure times to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace. It also suggests that congestion may be reduced by having more entry/exit points. Where touch-based security devices such as key pads are normally used, the guidance suggests considering and providing alternatives to this. Where cash may be handled, it is recommended that increased handwashing is introduced as well as more handwashing facilities for both workers and customers. Hand sanitiser ought to be provided where this is not practical.
Prior to re-opening it is advisable that sites are cleaned and once re-open, objects and surfaces that are regularly touched, are cleaned frequently. Where possible good ventilation ought to be maintained, for example by opening windows and doors.
The guidance suggests that outside of clinical settings the risk of COVID-19 cannot be managed through the use of PPE and that workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19. This may be welcome news to many in the hospitality or leisure sector and particularly to those with large numbers of employees in customer/public facing roles. That said, if a risk assessment does show that PPE is required, then this should be provided to workers who need it free of charge. Any PPE provided must also fit properly.
The guidance contains some specific steps on goods entering and leaving site and in respect of this it is recommended that pick-up and drop-off collection points are revised, along with procedures and any signage and markings. The minimising of unnecessary contact is encouraged through non-contact deliveries where the nature of the product allows r use of electronic pre-booking. Consideration should be given to reducing the frequency of deliveries and where possible, single workers should load or unload vehicles.
In summary the document is lengthy and at times often repetitive. It does not necessarily contain anything ground-breaking, nor anything that may come as too much of a surprise. The guidance is merely a set of recommendations and contains a number of steps that may be taken by businesses within the sector - it does not impose strict measures and rather is phrased as advice or guidance to those operating within the industry. The phrases 'where possible', 'should consider' and 'it is advised' feature heavily throughout the guidance. It would appear therefore that the government are very much leaving the operation of opening back up in the hands of businesses and for many it will mean operating in a near normal way, with the exception of enhanced hygiene and safety measures. The relaxing of the 2-metre rule to 1 metre with risk mitigation will certainly be welcome news for many across the sector. If one thing can be taken away from the guidance it is that a risk assessment should be carried out to assess the risks of COVID-19 and identify suitable measures to control such risks.
The full guidance can be accessed here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/the-visitor-economy.
For more information contact Abigail Lynch in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 0330 207 4469. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.
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