Going back to work: what you need to know

AS lockdown eases, thousands of Britons are returning to work with businesses doing everything they can to protect staff from Covid-19

(Note: government guidelines on returning to work currently apply to England only – the other nations of the UK are moving at a different pace)

In factories, shops and offices across the UK, social distancing and hand washing are taking centre stage to keep coronavirus at bay, and get the nation safely back to work.

Richard Hilton, the founder of Fabweld Steel Products in Telford, Shropshire, is tackling the challenge head on. As a manufacturer of essential steel items as well as manhole covers and shop signs, he felt he had to stay in business to help keep the UK going.

“At Fabweld, we make items such as fixtures for the national grid and London power tunnels, but our manufacturing has got to be done on site – there’s no way I can set up a power press in somebody’s front room,” he explains.

Since lockdown, half of Richard’s army of 40 staff have been on furlough or working from home – which means the safety of the remaining 20 employees who still work in the Telford factory has been his priority.

When making his plans, Richard was careful about following government guidelines on travel and safety at work, and also considered individuals’ needs.

“We carried out a risk assessment with each employee, talking about things like how they travel to work, and whether they live with someone who needs to be shielded,” says Richard. “Anybody who was in the high-risk category and would normally work on the shop floor was furloughed first.”

To protect those still working on site, working practices had to change. “We split up break times to limit the number of people in communal areas at once, introduced two-metre distancing rules across the site, and created one-way systems where walkways got a bit narrow,” Richard says. “We’re installing sturdy perspex screens around certain machines and work areas to replace the cordons that were there before, and on occasions when employees need to work at close quarters with each other, they have to wear a mask.”

Staff also have their part to play, with new personal hygiene rules being brought in. “Hand washing is crucial, and we’ve also installed additional hand sanitiser stations and quadrupled our cleaning hours,” says Richard. Of course, coronavirus doesn’t only pose a physical threat – Richard has also had to consider the emotional wellbeing of his employees.

“We’ve tried to make our staff part of the process every step of the way,” he says. “Our company values centre around teamwork, and that strength has been evident in dealing with the pandemic. There’s definitely a feeling of unity.”

With manufacturers such as Fabweld taking the right measures, businesses can start helping the wheels of the nation to start turning again – and rolling smoothly over those Fabweld manhole covers! And with this in mind, Richard goes above and beyond to keep his workers happy.

“We’ve looked at the little things we can do to help staff who are still on site. On a Monday we have a pizza day, where we’ll order in pizza for everyone, and all the vending machine drinks are now completely free. It’s things like that which help keep morale up.”

And Richard’s staff certainly appreciate his efforts, which include a free breakfast every Friday, and midweek bacon baps.

“Until last week I was on furlough, but I really missed coming to work– there’s so much cleaning and housework to be done at home!” jokes Fabweld dispatch coordinator Birige Lal Kainth, who’s worked for the company for 20 years.

“When I was told there was a large enough workload at the factory for me to be able to come back, I was keen – my philosophy is that you’ve got to keep yourself active, and working is one way of the ways I do that.”

After being told about the new safety measures in place in the factory, Birige was happy to return. “I wasn’t worried about coming back, because everything’s been put in place,” he says. “It feels safe to be at work because there’s a level of trust with your work colleagues.

“It’s a small company, but Richard is in a different class,” adds Birige.“He really looks after his employees. We all trust each other to follow the rules and stay safe. I’m pleased to be back!”

Find up to date advice for employers, employees and the self-employed on working safely during the coronavirus pandemic at gov.uk

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