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Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for call centres and customer contact centre environments

Guidance for call centre or customer contact centre environments on safe operation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for call centres and customer contact centre environments
Operational guide and checklist

Operational guide and checklist

This is information about changing the workplace environment (this includes where work may take place in a home) to protect your workforce and customers.

Physical distancing

Physical Distancing remains one of the most effective methods to protect ourselves and others from getting COVID-19. However, it is only one tool in our toolkit to suppress COVID-19. Good hand and respiratory hygiene, the use of face coverings and enhanced ventilation in indoor spaces are also key for reducing the risk of infection. All of these things, together, form an extremely effective package of interventions in supressing COVID-19.

Physical distancing rules are set out in legislation at The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Regulations 2020. These regulations legally require people responsible for businesses to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that:

  • the required distance is applied to all parts of a workplace, including staff canteens, entrances and exits, break rooms, smoking areas, and similar settings
  • the required distance is maintained between any persons either on or waiting to enter the premises
  • they only admit people to the premises in sufficiently small numbers to make it possible to maintain that distance

You can find the required physical distance for your area in our protection levels.

Businesses operating from non-domestic premises may want to consider calculating what their maximum physical distance based capacity (PDBC) limits are for their premises in order to manage the capacity to avoid breaching appropriate physical distancing rules.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) published guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings. In carrying out their regular risk assessments, workplaces should consult it and consider the list of measures suggested there, which are designed to ensure that physical distancing is maintained.

Some of the measures that businesses should be taken into account are as follows:

  • rearranging the layout of the premises to promote physical distancing
  • introducing signage with clear marking of physical distancing boundaries around the workplace and workstations and signage that reinforces expectations of workers at relevant points.
  • limiting access to parts of the workplace required by an individual to do their job as this will limit chances for interaction with others
  • staggering break times and adjusting canteen arrangements to reduce larger numbers of staff and to ensure physical distancing appropriate to the current level is followed
  • splitting the workforce into teams to avoid cross-team contamination and provide a level of operational resilience in case someone in one team develops COVID-19 symptoms
  • considering  language barriers that employees may have and ensuring translation is provided to all staff

Moving around buildings and workplaces

Physical distancing should be maintained where possible whilst moving around buildings and workplaces. The following measures should be considered:

  • discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites
  • reducing job rotation, equipment rotation and location rotation
  • implementing one-way systems on walkways
  • reducing maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts and encouraging use of stairs
  • making sure that people who are disabled are able to access lifts whilst maintaining physical distancing measures
  • regulating use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to maintain physical distancing
  • face coverings should be worn within the workplace when walking through the building and in all areas. Where appropriate physical distancing is not possible please see advice on wearing face coverings

Workplaces and workstations

Workstations should be assigned to individuals where possible. However if they need to be shared, they should be shared by the smallest possible number of people and workstations should be cleaned between each user.

If it is not possible to physically distance workstations, and those workstations are considered essential to the delivery of your business, then extra attention needs to be paid to equipment, cleaning and hygiene to reduce risk:

  • review layouts to allow workers to work further apart
  • using floor tape or paint to mark areas to aid physical distancing
  • using screens to create a physical barrier between people
  • use a consistent pairing system if people have to work in close proximity

Common areas

It is important to maintain physical distancing in common areas by:

  • staggering break times to reduce pressure on break/eating areas
  • using safe outside areas for breaks
  • encouraging workers to bring their own food
  • providing packaged meals to avoid opening staff canteens
  • using workplace areas that have been freed up by home working
  • reconfiguring seating and tables to maintain physical distancing spacing
  • using protective screening for staff in public facing areas
  • regulating use of locker rooms, changing areas and other facility areas to reduce concurrent usage
  • encouraging storage of personal items and clothing in personal storage spaces, for example lockers, during working hours
  • considering use of physical distance marking for areas such as toilets, showers, lockers and changing rooms and in any other areas where queues typically form
  • minimising crowding in congested areas in your premises such as narrow corridors, staircases, doorways and storage areas by introducing one way systems

Meetings

To reduce or eliminate transmission due to face-to-face meetings:

  • using remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings
  • only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and should maintain physical distancing throughout
  • avoiding sharing pens or other objects
  • providing hand sanitiser in meeting rooms
  • holding meetings outdoors or in well ventilated rooms
  • using floor signage to help people maintain physical distancing
  • ensure the use of face coverings

Where the physical distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue. If so, they should take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission. A risk assessment should be conducted and documented. Further mitigating actions include:

  • increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
  • good ventilation in workplaces
  • maximising the distance between people as much as possible
  • using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
  • reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others)
  • if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then you will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment
  • those who are deemed high risk, for example those who have been shielding, should not be asked to work in areas where mitigation measures identified in the risk assessment are compromised

Physical distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, break rooms, smoking areas, canteens and similar settings. These are often the most challenging areas to maintain physical distancing in and may require clear communication and supervision to ensure mitigation measures are followed.

Employers should continue to ensure that the key mitigations below are implemented and followed to ensure continued risk is reduced within all workplace environments.

Find out the level and rules for an area using the postcode checker.  

Following the physical distancing guidance will mitigate against the risk of staff  being identified as a ‘close contact’ of a colleague who tests positive for COVID-19.

Travel to work and work-related travel

Public Health Scotland has provided COVID-19 information and guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings stating people should not travel if they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms. The PHS  advice and any subsequent safe travelling advice should be factored into company decisions on planned returns to work. Transport Scotland have produced guidance to assist the public to travel safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is important that the latest version is read.

The advice is to avoid unnecessary work-related travel with an emphasis on keeping people safe when they do need to travel between locations:

  • minimise non-essential travel – consider remote options first
  • minimise the number of people travelling together in any one vehicle, using fixed travel partners, increasing ventilation when possible and avoiding sitting face-to-face
  • ensure drivers and passengers maintain good hygiene and wash their hands regularly
  • clean shared vehicles between shifts or on handover
  • where workers are required to stay away from home, centrally logging the stay and making sure any overnight accommodation meets physical distancing guidelines

The Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland’s Strategic Framework includes travel and transport arrangements. Employers and employees should note what applies to their areas, including any differentiation across different relevant areas.
Please refer to   COVID-19 Protection Levels for up to date guidance in your area.

Coming to work and leaving work

The following measures should be considered:  

  • if you are travelling in a vehicle (or other forms of transport) as part of your job or business, safe operation of workplaces applies, therefore please refer to advice on car and vehicle sharing and  advice on how to travel safely and your employer. 
  • staggering arrival and departure times to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of impacts on those with protected characteristics and caring responsibilities for example noting the staggered school and nursery start and finishing times 
  • defining process alternatives for entry/exit points where appropriate, for example, deactivating pass readers or keypads at turnstiles in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance
  • reducing congestion, for example, by increasing entry/exit points
  • providing handwashing facilities, or hand sanitiser where not possible, at entry and exit points
  • using markings and introducing one-way flow at entrances/exits
  • providing additional parking or facilities such as bike racks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible
  • limiting passengers in corporate vehicles
  • providing more storage for workers’ clothes and bags

Enhanced hygiene

Enhanced hygiene measures are key workplace-specific measures to create a safe working environment. These include:

  • sanitiser and hand wash facilities at key points, including on entry and exit points
  • additional sanitiser and handwash facilities at communal areas
  • regular cleaning of work equipment, chairs and work stations including considering how often and where deep cleans may be required (especially where work stations are shared facilities)
  • regular cleaning and sanitising of break out areas, including chairs and tables and other welfare facilities e.g. fridges, kettles, vending machines etc.
  • composition of chairs in staff breakout areas should be reviewed to ensure they can be effectively cleaned.
  • minimising the use of touchpoints throughout buildings, including exploring where possible how digital processes or systems may replace the need for face-to-face discussion 

Hygiene – handwashing, sanitation facilities and toilets

To help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day:

  • providing regular reminders and signage to uphold hygiene standards
  • providing hand sanitiser at multiple points, in addition to washrooms
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and physical distancing is achieved where possible
  • enhancing cleaning of touch points in busy areas
  • special care should be taken for cleaning of portable toilets
  • providing more waste facilities and frequent rubbish collection
  • providing either paper towels or electrical driers for drying hands

Keeping the workplace clean and disinfecting

To keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission:

  • frequent, for example at least twice a day, cleaning and sanitising work areas and equipment between uses. Ensure regular detergent cleaning schedules and procedures are in place using a product which is active against bacteria and viruses
  • frequent cleaning and sanitising objects and surfaces that are touched regularly and making sure there are adequate disposal arrangements
  • clearing workspaces and removing waste and belongings from the work area at the end of a shift or between use of desk/area
  • wedging doors open, where appropriate, to reduce touchpoints. This does not apply to fire doors
  • if you are cleaning and disinfecting after a known or suspected case of COVID-19 then refer to the guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings, this includes guidance on when PPE might be appropriate and how to dispose of waste.

Cleaning and disinfecting the workplace before reopening

To ensure workplaces that were closed or partially operated are clean and ready to restart, including:

  • an assessment for all sites, or parts of sites, that have been closed, before restarting work
  • cleaning and disinfecting procedures and providing hand sanitiser, before restarting work, in line with any requirements for reopening after prolonged closure
  • good ventilation to ensure increased volume of outside air entering a building, by opening windows, doors or vents and to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19
  • where windows cannot be opened adequate mechanical ventilation systems should  be in place, check whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems. Advice can be sought from your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers. See HSE guidance on Air conditioning and ventilation during the coronavirus outbreak

Legionella testing

Water systems may become stagnant when not in use, increasing the risk of legionella within water supplies. To mitigate this risk ahead of re-opening public buildings or offices that may have been closed for an extended period during lockdown:

Changing facilities

To minimise the risk of transmission in changing rooms and showers:

  • set clear use and cleaning guidance for showers, lockers and changing rooms to ensure they are kept clean and clear of personal items and to ensure that physical distancing is followed
  • restrict number of people within the changing areas at any time
  • enhance cleaning and sanitising of facilities regularly throughout the day
  • ensure the area is well ventilated

Handling goods, merchandise and other materials, and onsite vehicles

To reduce transmission from objects and vehicles at the workplace:

  • Implement cleaning and sanitising procedures for goods and merchandise entering the site. This should include hand sanitisation before and after handling goods, good ventilation, cleaning of surfaces and any other mitigating actions
  • cleaning and sanitising procedures for vehicles
  • regular cleaning and sanitising of reusable delivery boxes
  • restricting non-business deliveries
  • ensuring physical distancing is followed when supplies etc. are delivered
  • collecting items in bulk to reduce the frequency of collections
  • removing waste in bulk if possible
  • enhanced handling procedures of laundry to prevent contamination of surrounding surfaces (do not shake linen on removal, do not place used linen on the floor or any other surfaces)

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE protects users against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes face masks and respiratory protective equipment, such as respirators.

HPS guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings offers advice on the use of PPE, confirming organisations should continue to use any PPE required as per local policies (business as usual) and in line with measures justified by a risk assessment. Both the Scottish Government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommend a risk based approach focused on a hierarchy of control which seeks to eliminate risks, combat risks at source, adapt workplaces to individual needs, ensure adequate staff training around processes to manage the risk and then use PPE where required.

Where PPE is deemed necessary, an adequate supply and quality must be maintained and provided free of charge to workers. Staff must also be trained in the use of PPE and it must fit properly. 

Note that face coverings are not considered PPE.

Face coverings

It is important to note the difference between face masks and face coverings. Face coverings are not classified as PPE such as surgical masks which are used in some settings such as hospitals to protect wearers against hazards and risks. Face coverings are instead largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Consult the up to date advice on wearing face coverings which includes  exemption cards.

Temperature checks

We do not recommend the use of temperature checking employees as a means of testing for COVID-19 due to the low efficacy rate of this method. Further information about the reliability of temperature checking as a test for COVID-19 can be found on the MHRA website:

COVID-19 symptoms in the workplace

Workers have a responsibility to ensure they adhere to overall COVID-19 advice which says people with symptoms should arrange to be tested, remain at home and self-isolate or if members of their household has symptoms then follow the household isolation guidance (stay at home). Organisations, workers and those identified through other means as having contact or being a COVID case (even if asymptomatic) should remain in regular communication throughout any period of self-isolation. Organisations are encouraged to work with trade union or workforce representatives to enable individuals to work from home while self-isolating if appropriate.

If an individual develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, you should help them arrange to be tested by directing them to NHS Inform or having them call 0800 028 2816.

As part of risk assessments organisations should explore with trade union or workforce representatives how to respond should anyone develop symptoms while at work, including whether it is possible to identify any particular parts of the site the individual may have accessed or equipment used while symptomatic. Consideration should be given to how best to monitor health of all individuals in a workplace.

Outbreak management

Organisations should suspect an outbreak if there is either:

  • two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the setting within 14 days

or

  • an increase in staff absence rates, in a setting, due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 

All staff should be aware of organisation protocols to inform a member of staff, manager or responsible person if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 .

If possible and it is safe to do so, find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a closed door, such as a staff office or meeting room. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation. 

Arrangement should be made for the person experiencing symptoms to return home as soon as possible and follow the guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection. Where possible they should minimise contact with others, e.g. use a private vehicle to journey home., Use of public transport should be discouraged, however individuals who have no other option but to use public transport should adhere to mitigation measures such as:  

  • use of face coverings
  • physical distancing
  • hand & respiratory hygiene
  •  minimise the time spent on the public transport system

If an organisation suspects a COVID-19 outbreak, they should immediately inform their local NHS board Health Protection Team (HPT).  Sometimes the first contact may be made by the local HPT to inform the organisation as the local HPT may get information from NHS Test & Protect or other sources.

In the event of an outbreak:

  • continue to follow the existing protection and control measures contained within this guidance
  • the local Health Protection Team will undertake a risk assessment and conduct a rapid investigation. They will advise on the most appropriate action to take.
  • staff who have had close contact with case(s) will be asked to self-isolate at home. In some cases, a larger number of other staff may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure. Where settings are observing guidance on infection prevention and control, which will reduce risk of transmission, the local health protection team will take this into account in determining whether closure of the whole setting will be necessary.
  • depending on the risk assessment outcome, the Health Protection Team may establish an Incident Management Team (IMT) to help manage the situation
  • the Incident Management Team will lead the Public Health response and investigations, and work with the organisation to put appropriate interventions in place 

To control an outbreak the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team will work with the organisation to put appropriate interventions in place. These will generally include ensuring that the preventive measures described in this guidance are fully implemented. Other measures may include:

  • cleaning in the setting - for cleaning and waste management, refer to guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings for maintaining hygiene
  • consider wider testing of affected population and staff
  • information - ensure that staff (and other relevant people) are aware of what has happened and the actions being taken
  • closure - may be done following advice from the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team or the business may make their own decision on closure ahead of this advice as a precaution or for business continuity reasons

The Health Protection Team or Incident Management Team will declare when the outbreak is over.

Dealing with emergencies

  • emergency, evacuation and accident response processes need to be considered to ensure effective arrangements
  • physical distancing should be maintained at evacuation assembly points. However In an emergency, for example an accident or fire, people do not have to physical distance if it would be unsafe
  • institutions should also consider PEEPs (personal emergency evacuation plans) for persons with additional mobility needs and ensure that sufficient numbers of trained staff are available
  • people involved in provision of assistance to others (as well as those being assisted) should pay particular attention to sanitisation measures immediately afterwards including washing hands
  • these arrangements may require institutions to re-evaluate any current assembly points to facilitate this spacing. this would also mean re-informing/ training those who use the premises and updating emergency plans and posters etc.

Security

The interpretation and use of guidance should be considered in line with normal protective security operations and practices. Organisations should involve their security departments in the interpretation and implementation of the guidance. In particular, security should be considered in any appropriate risk assessment.

Read further detailed CPNI and UK Government guidance on security.

Deliveries, distribution and contractors

To reduce transmission from objects and onsite vehicles :

  • implement cleaning and sanitising procedures for goods and merchandise entering the site. This should include hand sanitisation before and after handling goods, good ventilation, cleaning of surfaces and any other mitigating actions
  • cleaning and sanitising procedures for vehicles
  • regular cleaning and sanitising of reusable delivery boxes
  • restricting non-business deliveries
  • ensuring physical distancing is followed when supplies etc. are delivered
  • collecting items in bulk to reduce the frequency of collections
  • removing waste in bulk if possible
  • enhanced handling procedures of laundry to prevent contamination of surrounding surfaces (do not shake linen on removal, do not place used linen on the floor or any other surfaces)

Site visitors 

All site visitors should be treated as if they were workers, providing the same protections and expecting them to follow the same rules.

Employers should consider limiting site access to those who need to be there for safe operation, ensuring safe working practices and production related activities

There may be a requirement for specific external agencies to have legal access to certain premises in a safe manner. Employers should consider implementing a permit to work system for contractors and external visitors who need to access the site.

Where site visits are required the following should be considered:

  • maintaining a record of all visitors including encouraging the use of the Check In Scotland service
  • providing handwashing and hand sanitiser and encourage visitors to wash their hands regularly
  • provide clear guidance on physical distancing and hygiene to people on arrival, for example, signage, visual aids and before arrival, such as by phone, on the website or by email
  • regulating entry so that the premises do not become overcrowded, and placing physical distancing markers on the floor
  • determining if schedules for essential services and contractor visits can be revised to reduce interaction and overlap between people
  • revising visitor arrangements to ensure physical distancing and hygiene, for example, where someone physically signs in with the same pen
  • where loading or unloading of goods takes place businesses must take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of drivers delivering and collecting from their premises
  • think about how to maintain social distancing for visiting drivers to reduce transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) and make sure they have access to welfare facilities like toilets and handwashing facilities at your site
  • the legal responsibility to provide access to these facilities lies with whoever controls the premises drivers are visiting
  • make sure drivers understand what they should do to follow your site social distancing rules

Checklist

We have developed a checklist to support organisations to implement this guidance. The checklist reflects the minimum expectations outlined in this guidance document.

Organisations who wish to increase workforce or public confidence are encouraged to display the checklist to help to communicate actions being implemented or undertaken.

The actions in the checklist should be fully considered and implemented where possible as part of procedures and should be considered by contact centre managers, health and safety officers and landlords in the case of shared premises.


Contact

Email: SaferWorkplaces.CovidGuidanceQueries@gov.scot

First published: 26 Nov 2020 Last updated: 20 Jul 2021 -