The Way Forward: Health – Staying Safe

Chris Fletcher, Policy, Campaigns and Communications Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, looks at the health impact of Covid-19.

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What we have been through the last 3 months is primarily a health-related crisis caused by Covid-19. Social distancing and restrictive measures on movement, work and social contacts were put in place to stop the spread of what has proven to be a highly contagious and lethal virus. Extra measures have been placed to protect those most at risk: the clinically extremely vulnerable through “shielding”, in addition to ongoing strict self-isolation rules for those showing symptoms.

The continuation and “loosening” of these measures will ultimately drive and inform any subsequent recovery activity. Guidelines are in place to inform what will need to be done in workplaces across all sectors – though it should be noted that some businesses have continued to work through the lockdown period observing social distancing measures where possible. The myth that the economy has closed needs addressing with many businesses continuing to trade safely on site or via the new legions of home workers.

The confidence in being safe and staying safe will impact on how a return into work is actioned.

The primary guidance is that for those people that can, are able to and have been working at home to continue to do so. Vulnerable people and those with a range of other conditions will continue to undertake strict shielding and isolation measures.

As part of a small work group set up by British Chambers of Commerce I’ve been privy to the initial draft guidance of the working guidelines now in place. Much of it is common sense but make no mistake even with smaller distancing measures they are disruptive.

Strict distancing guidelines will be put in place in all workspaces and for all sectors. Including entry/exit points, one way flows in public areas/corridors, lifts and guidelines around meetings.

The guidance for the hospitality sector is restrictive and for many members of the public looking forward to nipping out for a post-lockdown pint, this may not be as easy as it once was. The latest guidelines on personal services – hairdressers causes an equally big shock to the system – face visors and shields being the new order of the day.

Economically, which we will look at tomorrow, these businesses will need continued support, especially those whose income has been decimated through closure.

Above all though it is vital that a second wave of the virus is avoided. With the onset of flu season just a few months away safety first has to be the order of the day, but the economy still needs to operate. This is the world of health and commerce coming together and will form the basis of whatever the “new normal” will look like.

Workplace Guidance documents are accessible here – “Working Safely Through Coronavirus”

 Issues to consider:

  • Decision making and planning around what levels of workforce do you need in/can you operate with? Is home working a long term viable option? What are the implications on office/workspace?
  • How do you tackle the levels of confidence in public transport and people’s commute? It shouldn’t feel like you are running the gauntlet it has to be overtly safe.
  • What liability will employers and business owners have following the undertaking of an effective risk assessment and implementation of guidelines?
  • Enforcement of guidelines and constant monitoring – changes cannot be a one off done at the start of a return to work but will they have to be managed on an ongoing basis?
  • Should there be dispensation for in work testing and access to health care?
  • There may be costs of buying in PPE/structural changes/office layout and other necessary actions to implement the guidelines - who should fund these? Does there need to be clearer definition of the role of building owners/landlords?
  • Shielded/vulnerable staff – how can they be effectively employed safely?


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