Work cohorts (you may know these as “work bubbles”)
As an employer you may wish for small groups of workers to form work cohorts. As a worker, you may be already working or be asked to work in a cohort. This guidance should be followed by both employers and the workforce.
Work cohorts could be useful where a job role requires groups of the same workers to work in close proximity. It may help to maintain business operations in the event that a worker develops symptoms or is tested positive for the virus, as exposure would be limited to their particular cohort.
Work cohorts arrangements must be considered, this is particularly relevant should a worker be vulnerable or have a vulnerable member within their household.
Some employers may already be implementing working groups, cohorts, bubbles, clusters etc. Please reassess your working arrangements against the principles below.
Work cohorts – principles
- cohorts must be discussed and agreed with management and recorded. Cohorts must include the least number of people required to do the job
- cohorts must be designed to allow business continuation if another work cohort is removed from the workforce
- cohorts must be strictly separated from other cohorts in time and/or space to prevent virus transmission between groups
- physical distancing and face coverings are required. Physical distancing remains one of the most effective methods to protect ourselves and others. The required distance for most sectors is 2 metres, with the exception of public transport and hospitality (if allowed to operate based on the level of protection currently in force) which have a reduced distance of at least 1 metre This reduced distance is conditional on additional mitigations being implemented, as the risk of transmission at 1 metre is higher. Furthermore, you are legally obliged to wear a face covering in indoor communal workplace settings except where an exemption applies as defined in the legislation, or where there is a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face covering such as eating and drinking in workplace canteens.
- consideration must be given to other cohorts workers may be in, for example:
- if one household has two or more family members working in one organisation/company in different work cohorts, then there is a risk of cross-cohort transmission, should a cohort member develop symptoms
- if a worker is vulnerable or more at risk due to transmission or has a member within their household bubble who is in this category
- implement at least a 10 day gap if moving individuals between work cohorts to match the incubation time of the virus. This would mean the individual moving to another cohort would have to work outwith a cohort for 10 days before joining another cohort. This could be managed via facilitating home (if possible) or isolated/distanced working.
Further mitigations for consideration
- further physical distancing by staggering employees’ workplace entry and departure times - effectively eliminating the overlap between different cohorts arriving at and leaving the facility - as well as their access to common areas such as locker rooms and canteens
- if you have more than one site or premises you may want to restrict cohorts freely moving between different sites and localise work cohorts to a single site, to further minimise worker interactions
- you may want to look at shift patterns to effectively manage the number of workers in common areas, in relation to the overall number of workers on site, and allow for disinfection of common areas several times throughout the day as well as between shifts
- a daily symptom screen of the work cohort is another way to reduce the probability of a workforce outbreak
Work cohorts and vehicle sharing
- please see guidance on car and vehicle sharing
- car sharing should be minimised where possible
- you may wish to limit vehicle sharing to essential tasks or to keep a vehicle(s) dedicated to a single cohort
- there should be regular cleaning between journeys and between different cohort use
- a record should be kept of vehicle use
- face coverings and distancing requirements still apply
- you may wish to use larger vehicles with reduced capacity to allow for distancing
Should a worker in a cohort develop symptoms
- organisations are to follow public health guidance and Test and Protect employers guidance if a worker becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms at work
- the person should leave work to self‑isolate straight away and (if not medically exempt), wear a face covering on route and avoid public transport
- organisations should direct the workers who are part of the work cohort to NHS Inform or, if they can’t get online, call 0800 028 2816, to arrange to get tested
- organisations should make sure that staff do not have to, or feel that they have to, come in to work if they are self-isolating. Workers can request an isolation note through NHS Inform