Covid guidelines for England: safety advice for businesses

Practical steps, sector by sector, as laid out by the UK government for firms from 19 July

Last modified on Wed 14 Jul 2021 15.00 EDT

The government has issued sector-by-sector guidance on how businesses should reduce the risk of Covid-19 for staff and customers in England after 19 July when restrictions such as compulsory mask-wearing, social distancing and venue check-in, will be lifted.

There are six key steps for all businesses.

Perform Covid-19 risk assessments

Turn away people with Covid symptoms

Provide adequate ventilation

Keep stringent cleaning regimes

Enable NHS app check-in

Have clear communication with staff and customers

The changes could be significant for industries such as retail and hospitality in particular, as the choice over how to keep people safe is now a matter of discretion.

Offices, factories and laboratories

The government is dropping guidance that requires staff in offices, factories, warehouses and labs to work from home where possible, replacing this with “gradual return” to workplaces “over the summer”. While social distancing rules will no longer apply the guidelines recommend taking measures to reduce social contacts.

Employers are being asked to reduce the number of people that workers come into contact with by grouping staff into teams, using screens or barriers to separate people, and lessening hot-desking where possible. They are also asked to encourage staff and customers to wear face coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces.

Companies should be considerate towards staff who have not received a second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, discuss plans for ways of working – including hybrid arrangements, where time is split between home and workplace – and try to implement those plans in a gradual way.

Firms should also give “extra consideration” to staff who are clinically vulnerable but no longer legally advised to shield. Staff should also be allowed to work from home if they are forced to self isolate due to being contacted by NHS test and trace, or if they experience Covid symptoms.

Employers are also expected to ensure there is proper ventilation and more frequent cleaning, and to ask visitors to check-in via the NHS test and trace app. They are also asked to encourage staff and customers to wear face coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces and to conduct a health and safety risk assessment covering Covid-19 as a hazard. That includes having a plan in case there is a coronavirus outbreak.

Local authorities will have the power to place restrictions on businesses they believe are failing to follow the guidance and posing a “serious and imminent threat to public health”.

Retail

It is no longer mandatory for people to wear masks in shops in England. However, the guidelines lay out six steps to protect staff and customers. These include health and safety risk assessments, and provision of adequate ventilation. Retailers could turn away those with Covid-19 symptoms and use QR codes to enable people to check in with the NHS test and trace app. Mask wearing will continue to be mandatory in shops in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The guidance says: “Face coverings are no longer required by law. However, the government expects and recommends that people continue to wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed, spaces. Where worn correctly this may reduce the risk of transmission to themselves and others. Be aware that workers may choose to wear a face covering in the workplace.”

The move towards putting the onus on individual businesses to decide how they will manage Covid safety measures will produce an array of procedures by firms. However, many companies are expected to continue with at least some of the existing measures because of their duty towards safety..

In a poll done by YouGov for the retail technology firm Manhattan Associates, 57% of UK shoppers said they would not return to high-street shops unless wearing a mask, and 39% said they would feel safer if retailers continued to limit the number of shoppers at the sites.

Retailers, including the bookseller Waterstones and jeweller Beaverbrooks, said they would ask staff and customers to wear masks. Waterstones said it would also continue with social distancing measures and cleaning measures that it felt had kept staff and customers “secure” in the pandemic. Other retailers, including the art equipment retailer Hobbycraft, said they would let staff and shoppers make a choice on masks but would continue with measures such as perspex screens at the till and offering hand sanitiser.

The government guidelines also advise “close contact services”, such as hairdressers, to continue with appointment-only bookings, although these are no longer mandatory.

Restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs

The focus of the government’s guidance for hospitality venues is on ventilation. Venues are advised to monitor carbon dioxide levels (CO2), which are seen as a good proxy for the effectiveness of the ventilation.

Outdoor levels of CO2 are typically 400 parts per million (ppm) and anything below 800ppm is seen as good ventilation indoors. The government advises venues to take steps to keep the level below 1,500ppm, by for example using air conditioning or wedging doors open. Where there is continuous talking, singing or physical activity such as sport or dancing, venues are advised to keep levels below 800ppm.

Monitors of CO2 that provide this level of detail typically cost more than £250 and venues with multiple areas of poor ventilation may need several.

The government will encourage the use of Covid passports in large venues and says that it “expects and recommends” that face masks be worn in crowded areas. However none of this is mandatory.

For food services the guidelines recommend the use of disposable condiment vessels, contactless payment and ordering, limited use of self-service, and requests to stop people leaning on countertops. Pubs and restaurants should also consider cleaning items such as menus and card machines in full view of customers inbetween use.

Where searches of people are performed, such as at nightclubs, venues are advised to do this outdoors if possible and encourage staff to sanitise their hands between each search.

Hotels and accommodation

There are some recommendations specific to venues where people stay the night, including hotels, motels, B&Bs, camper vans and yurts.

Hotels should have measures in place to extend the stay of guests, at their cost, if they need to self isolate. Special measures for meals and laundry should be in place.

Guests should be asked to strip their own beds or clean their own rooms during self isolation, to avoid contact with cleaning staff.

At heritage locations, such as stately homes, the government advises ventilating rooms in a way that does not damage items of historical importance.

Events and attractions

Events and attractions, including theatres, theme parks, zoos, bowling alleys, trade shows, conferences, festivals and sporting events, will no longer be bound by restrictions that restrict the number of people that can mix indoors. This guidance applies to sports stadiums, music festivals and gigs, theatres and business conferences.

Organisers will be asked to consider using NHS QR codes, so people can be contacted by NHS test and trace, and the NHS Covid pass so people can demonstrate they have been vaccinated, tested or have natural immunity.

Operators are also being told to turn away anyone with Covid-19 symptoms, and provide on-site lateral flow tests if possible.

Informed by a series of test events that took place this summer, the guidance places emphasis on avoiding congestion. More stewards might be needed to reduce congestion at pinch points.

Employers should also try to reduce contact between people by using barriers at ticket or box offices, and organising fixed teams, and recommending face masks in closed and crowded spaces. While outdoor events present a lower risk of transmission, organisers are encouraged to introduce queuing systems and put up extra signage to avoid crowds congregating also at concession stands, bars, turnstiles and toilets.

In stadiums, auditoriums and theatres, organisers are encouraged to use allocated seating or additional stewarding to avoid unnecessary crowding, and clean more frequently.

Sites are also being asked to stagger entry and exit times, increase ventilation in any indoor and crowded areas, and communicate with local transport authorities to prepare for crowds at bus and tube stations.

Large events could be zoned, the guidance suggests, with guests allocated entrances and facilities such as bars or toilets based on their zone. Tickets should be purchased in advance wherever possible. Zones could reduce mixing, and temporary barriers, coloured wristbands, and floor markings, could be used.

Organisers should be aware of the increased need for mitigation measures, such as ventilation, where people are “actively chanting and celebrating while attending sporting events, singing along at gigs and concerts, or dancing/singing at a nightclub”.

For events such as conferences the government advises the use of name tags to avoid the exchange of business cards.

Employers have also been reminded that it is an offence to force staff to go into work if they need to self-isolate due to symptoms or after being contacted by NHS test and trace.

Construction

Construction workers and customers visiting sites no longer have to wear face coverings or observe the two-metre rule for physical distancing, under the government’s latest guidelines for the sector. As with other sectors the advice recommends that people continue to wear masks in crowded, enclosed, spaces.

Construction firms are also still advised to use fixed teams or shift patterns to reduce the number of people each person has contact with, and to install screens or barriers, or adopt back-to-back or side-to-side working.

Companies are no longer legally required to collect contact details of people at house viewings, but are advised to support NHS test and trace by displaying an NHS QR code poster.

Firms should still carry out health and safety risk assessments and provide adequate ventilation in indoor spaces such as changing rooms (using CO2 monitors). They should clean more often, including cleaning shared tools, and turn away staff or customers with Covid-19 symptoms.

Sites that have been closed or only partially running also need to be cleaned thoroughly before reopening.

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