Where will you be rushing off to when lockdown is eased? The nearest shopping centre for some retail therapy? The hairdressers for some emergency grey coverage? My first stop will be Costa for a large mocha with extra chocolate sprinkles. Sorry George, but Nespresso just doesn’t cut it after 6 weeks of lockdown.
My desperation for coffee wasn’t helped by news that the environment secretary didn’t think Costa needed to close their outlets in the first place: they could have continued operating in a socially distanced way.
That leads to the question as to what employers should be doing to ensure their employees’ health and safety at this time. A draft government plan to get people back to work suggests various measures including minimising the numbers of workers using equipment, staggering working hours to prevent crowded commutes, introducing additional hygiene procedures and using protective equipment where it is impossible to maintain social distancing.
It’s important to remember the actual wording of the Health and Safety at Work Act. An employer has a general duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all its employees. It’s impossible to eliminate all risk. If employers were required to go that far there would be no building sites and no one to deliver your essential lockdown shopping. What employers need to do is carry out a risk assessment to identify the hazards in their business, assess the chance that someone could be seriously harmed and take sufficient precautions to prevent harm.
A lot of measures are already in place. Sky takes workers' temperatures when they arrive at work, many supermarkets now have physical markers on the floor to keep staff and customers 2m apart and screens are in place in post offices. One business is paying workers a social distancing bonus of £1 an hour for sticking to the rules and the company has hired more staff, segregated shifts and staggered breaks. Doors are kept open wherever possible to reduce the number of things staff need to touch and social distancing marshals ensure the rules are being followed.
We will need to wait until later in the week to see how the government plans to ease the lockdown, but I’m hopeful that with an appropriate risk assessment it will soon be reasonably practicable for me to order a mocha.
Reopening the economy will take more than modified working practices. Workers must be confident they are safe. Companies must be confident they won't be sued if they get it wrong.