Practical tips for reopening your business safely for employees and customers post coronavirus
Like most businesses, Daltons Wadkin, the UK’s longest established distributors and manufacturers of industrial woodworking machinery, was forced to close its doors in March after the country was put into lockdown to restrict the rising transmission of COVID-19.
As work all but ground to a halt, the majority of its staff was put on furlough, bar a small skeleton team retained to support their customers in essential manufacturing industries.
While businesses of all sizes from different industries are only just starting to return to work across the country, Daltons Wadkin opened its doors again in the middle of May, doing so only after implementing their own stringent processes and rules and regulations.
Alex Dalton, the business director, worked with his health and safety manager well in advance of the reopening to map out exactly how the company’s ‘new normal’ would look and work in the office, showroom and workshops. Here he offers his advice to other businesses finding themselves in a similar situation by outlining what measures were implemented in order to introduce his colleagues and customers into a safe environment.
Conduct extensive research and turn it into an extensive risk assessment
There had been guidance released for businesses planning on returning to work and there were eight documents in total, all of which encapsulated different sectors. Three of them applied to us at Daltons Wadkin. We read through all of those – of which they were quite extensive – but once we had read one and then another, we saw that a lot of the information was being copied and pasted. From there, we boiled down the relevant points to produce our own risk assessment. It took the form of a flow chart and it allowed us to assess each colleague against their role within the business, what activities they undertook, and what exposure they may have to COVID-19. We had specific sections, but then we also looked at colleagues, like engineers for example, who would be in the office from time-to-time and then travelling and also working out on-site – effectively working across three different areas. The chart made everything clear to us in management on what needed to be done to protect everyone.
Clear lines of communication are key
The risk assessments and charts we created were sent to each employee in advance of their return date. In addition to the individual risk assessments – personal to each employee – there was also a new general COVID-19 policy, which detailed all the safe working practices and things to do in line with the Government and NHS guidelines. That gave all our colleagues a clear understanding of what needed to be done and cleared up any apprehension and questions they may have had before returning.
How to turn your office into a safe environment
It is one of the trickiest things you have to think about when you have got more people back in the office. We have implemented a policy of leaving doors open wherever possible to minimise hand contact with communal surfaces. We can’t operate with a two-metre spacing between people in our office, so we made sure colleagues were working side-by-side rather than across from each other. That’s worked well. We also have stated that any member of staff who can work from home, of which there are not many, are to do so.
Unnatural changes are the hardest to enforce
Most companies, large or small, will find this is the toughest thing to achieve. It is one thing talking about the necessary procedures, it’s another putting it in place. It just comes down to time and people getting used to the new normal. It’s the same with the health and safety procedure. We take that in our stride and it becomes second nature. With this COVID-19 policy, while it is still classed as health and safety, it is new to people. It’s been drilled into us for a few months now by the Government about washing your hands and the social distancing, but it’s incredibly easy for people to slip back into their old ways. We have discussed the policies, procedures and risk assessments with all our colleagues and they all agree with it and want to do it. There is an onus on us to remind ourselves and remind each other about the rules, and we have implemented signs around the office to keep it at the forefront of our staff’s mind. We have found this has been the biggest issue we have had to get around, but we feel that it is starting to become second nature.
Implement staggered breaks and lunches
We limit any person going to the toilet to just one at a time and we have also implemented a staggered structure for colleagues going to our canteen. Not everyone can take lunch at the same time and we have put in place half an hour intervals, meaning there are only two people in the canteen at any one time. That seems to be working quite well.
Introduce a customer booking system and explain new changes before they enter the premises
Customers come into our reception area and those doors are kept locked at all times now - stopping delivery drivers, customers, or even just people coming in on the off chance heading into the office. Once in the reception area, it is explained to them what they need to do and they don’t get released into the office or the showroom area until that’s been done. Our showroom is a big and wide space and we have got hand sanitisers and surface wipes located throughout it. For customers who want to come to our showroom, which we still encourage but only by appointment so we can control the number of people coming at once. Every customer is also shown our COVID-19 risk assessment and is asked to wash their hands before entering the showroom where they adhere to the two-metre rule. We have also limited our demonstration times to 30minutes when possible. They will then repeat the exercise before leaving.
Use the time away to train effectively
While furlough has been a frustration to many of our staff, we used the time productively to train colleagues. It was something we looked into and so we continued to carry out training with those team members, which proved useful. That’s something we’re continuing to do because we’re still not in a position where everyone has returned to the business.
Alex Dalton, pictured below, is business director at Daltons Wadkin, the UK’s longest established distributors and manufacturers of industrial woodworking machinery for processing a wide range of materials, which was founded in 1901
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