Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the technology sector

Published: 21 Aug 2020
Last updated: 30 Oct 2020 - see all updates

Guidance for the technology sector on safe re-opening during the coronavirus pandemic.

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the technology sector
Operational guide

Operational guide

Information about changing the workplace environment to protect your workforce.

As a minimum we expect:

  • enhanced health and safety measures to be in place before staff are asked to return to work, including physical distancing guidance and hygiene measures, generally and at bottleneck situations 
  • safe travel to work arrangements to be considered as part of a risk assessment, with any relevant adjustments adopted

Safe workplace planning and communications

It is vital steps are taken to ensure a safe working environment and related workforce confidence. This is best done through early, regular and ongoing engagement between companies and trade union or workforce representatives. As it will take time to complete the necessary risk assessment, identify the relevant mitigation measures and put those measures in place, the engagement between employers, trade union or workforce representatives must start well before a planned restart date (or ramp-up where production of essential goods or delivery of essential services have continued at less than full capacity).

It is important everyone understands the measures taken to establish the safe working environment as this is likely to have a significant impact on workforce confidence. Being and  feeling safe will play an integral role in supporting a recovery in productivity levels.

A range of workplace types are in use within the technology sector including offices with open plan collaborative spaces, labs, call and contact centres, lecture halls and other educational facilities, and public facing spaces. The guidance below can be applied to all of these environments.

Employers will need to consider how the wider risks will be controlled in shared facilities, hubs, and/or facilities within a larger building. Employers within any building will need to cooperate and coordinate their actions and controls with any other employers within the building, the landlord and the facilities management company, where relevant. Consideration will need to be given on issues around access, cleaning and use of communal spaces and facilities such as lifts, stairs and fire exits.

Collaboration is encouraged between tenants of a shared building, for example in staggering work patterns, to avoid bottlenecks at normal office hours, as well as sharing of best practice within a particular building.

In instances where employees are working within other employers’ premises as contractors, the individual employer must ensure they have made proportionate enquiries to ensure that the risks associated with COVID-19 are controlled within  the building which their employees are working in.

Further specific guidance is available on:

Enhanced hygiene

Enhanced hygiene measures should be a key plank of workplace-specific measures to create a safe working environment, including for example:

  • sanitiser and hand-washing facilities at key points, including on entry and exit points
  • additional sanitiser and handwash facilities around communal areas
  • regular cleaning of work equipment and work stations including considering how often and where deep cleans may be required
  • robust hygiene measures regarding the installation and deinstallation or removal of hardware
  • 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 
  • deployment of anti-bacterial and virus-resistant surfaces prone to touching

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 for 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

Cleaning the workplace before reopening

To ensure workplaces which 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 procedures and providing hand sanitiser, before restarting work
  • checking whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems. Advice can be sought from your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers
  • opening windows and doors frequently to encourage ventilation, where possible. This does not apply to fire doors. Read the HSE Guidance on this

Workstations in the workplace

Workstations should be assigned to an individual where possible. 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 business critical, then extra attention needs to be paid to equipment, cleaning and hygiene to reduce risk:

  • reviewing 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
  • using a consistent pairing system if people have to work in close proximity

Legionella testing

There is an increased risk of Legionnaire’s disease when buildings have been out of use, or not running at full capacity. This is because water systems may become stagnant when not in use, increasing the risk of legionella within water supplies. Many public and office buildings have been closed during the COVID-19 crisis, making legionella a legitimate concern as lockdown restrictions are eased.

The Health and Safety Executive have published advice on the risk of Legionella in buildings which are closed or running with reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 crisis on the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) website.

Building owners or operators should undertake a health and safety check of buildings, and deep cleaning prior to reopening where necessary, to mitigate risks. More information is on the HSE website.

Keeping the workplace clean

To keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission:

  • frequent, for example at least twice a day, cleaning of 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 of 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 after a known or suspected case of COVID-19 then refer to the guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings

Changing facilities

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

  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for showers, lockers and changing rooms to ensure they are kept clean and clear of personal items and that physical distancing is achieved as much as possible
  • enhance cleaning of facilities regularly throughout the day

Handling goods, merchandise and other materials, and onsite vehicles

To reduce transmission from objects and vehicles at the workplace:

  • cleaning procedures for goods and merchandise entering the site.
  • cleaning procedures for vehicles
  • regular cleaning of reusable delivery boxes
  • introducing handwashing facilities/sanitiser for workers handling goods and merchandise
  • restricting non-business deliveries
  • ensuring physical distancing and hygiene measures are followed where possible 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)

Physical distancing

Physical distancing is the other key plank of workplace-specific measures to create a safe working environment.

Factors companies will want to consider include:

  • facility layout and signage with clear marking of physical distance boundaries around the workplace and workstations and signage which reinforces expectations of employees at relevant points. (As English may not be the first language for everyone, companies should consider how best to use visual material to reinforce messages)
  • limiting access to parts of the workplace required by an individual to do their job as this will limit the chances for interaction with others
  • using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
  • using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
  • avoiding use of hot desks and sharing equipment, and where not possible, cleaning workstations and shared spaces between use by different employees
  • staggering entry and exit times to prevent bottlenecks arising as people arrive or leave
  • staggering break times and adjusting canteen arrangements to reduce opportunities for larger numbers of staff to interact on a face to face basis
  • splitting the workforce into specific teams to avoid cross-team contamination and provide a level of operational resilience in case someone in one team develops COVID-19 symptoms
  • consideration of specific arrangements for religious observance
  • consideration of specific arrangements required for medical self-treatment
  • assessing technology resilience for remote working, and considering opportunities to introduce additional technology support and systems to assist in managing the safe working practices and in particular physical distancing
  • considering adaptation of specific working practices e.g. Agile ceremonies to ensure physical distancing measures are adhered to

Shift patterns

Companies may develop plans to change shift patterns to both protect the workforce and optimise productive capacity. This could include considering opportunities to reduce the need for travel at peak times and opportunities for flexible working patterns. This will require proper negotiation with trade union or workforce representatives if it involves a change in employee terms and conditions.   

Dealing with emergencies 

Protocols for dealing with emergencies, evacuations and accidents will be impacted by the need to maintain physical distancing while individuals who would normally lead or coordinate site responses in such situations may be amongst those working from home. Emergency, evacuation and accident response processes therefore need to be considered to ensure effective arrangements are still in place. Everyone onsite should be familiar with new processes.

Travel to work and work-related travel

Public Health Scotland (PHS) have provided COVID-19 information and guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings stating people should not travel if they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms. The HPS 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. Please read the latest version.

To avoid unnecessary work-related travel and keep 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
  • cleaning 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

Coming to work and leaving work

The following measures should be considered: 

  • staggering arrival and departure times to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of impacts on those with protected characteristics
  • 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

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. This should seek to eliminate risks, combat risks at source and adapt workplaces to individual needs. It should also 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 which is provided free of charge to workers and which 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. Where HPS guidance refers to face masks this means surgical or other medical grade masks that are used in certain health and social care situations. Face coverings are made from cloth or other textiles that cover the mouth and nose, and through which you can breathe (e.g. a scarf).

People aged 5 years and over must wear a face covering on public transport, in public transport premises (e.g. train stations and airports) and shops. Read more about exemptions to this requirement.

We have issued guidance on the personal use of face coverings. If you wear one, it is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off.

The guidance relates to use of face coverings by members of the public in specific circumstances. Physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene, are the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The wearing of facial coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of these other precautions.

The use of face coverings has now been extended for workplaces and you are legally obliged to wear a face covering in communal areas indoors, unless exempt.  This includes:

  • The wearing of face coverings in a workplace canteen, when not seated at a table, such as when queueing, entering or leaving the canteen (in line with other hospitality venues)
  • The wearing of face coverings in other indoor communal workplaces, such as corridors and social spaces

See further information on face coverings in the workplace.

Security

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

Under no circumstances do we advise the removal or alteration of, or reduction in, existing protective security measures without providing clear recommendations (e.g. from the National Technical Authority/police CT specialists) on how to maintain effective protective security. 

This should extend to measures not primarily intended to provide a protective security benefit, but nonetheless doing so, for example removal of street furniture that could make moving or queueing pedestrians more vulnerable to vehicle-as-a-weapon attacks. Security staff should remain focused on security duties. Where COVID-19 creates additional staffing requirements, e.g. for queue management employers should ensure additional suitable staff resource is made available. Employers should ensure security staff feel safe, e.g. having access to appropriate PPE and hand-washing facilities, and that they are able and confident to raise any concerns.

Cyber security

Working from home creates unique cyber security challenges and risks that must be appropriately managed and these risks are further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic as organisations are more dependent than ever on connected digital technology. Reverting to physical and in-person onsite operations in the event of a significant cyber incident can be challenging with the necessary physical distancing measures. Preventing, detecting and disrupting cyber-attacks at the earliest opportunity limits the impact on business and the potential for reputational damage.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have produced guidance on the steps employers should take when introducing (or scaling up the amount of) home working. This includes guidance on the use of multi-factor authentication, virtual private networks, own devices, removable media and for organisations implementing new Software as a Service (SaaS) applications to adjust to home working.

In relation to defence against cyber threats, staff can be the greatest strength or the greatest weakness depending on their awareness so training in cyber security and resilience is crucial. NCSC have created a free e-learning resource for training staff ‘Top Tips For Staff’ which can be completed online or built into your organisations’ training platform.

NCSC have also produced guidance on what security questions to ask IT service providers during the COVID-19 pandemic when moving business from physical to digital.

Read further detailed guidance on security.

COVID-19 symptoms within the workplace

Workers have a responsibility to ensure they adhere to overall COVID-19 advice which says people with symptoms should 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.

For those who are self-isolating in employment and on low-income benefits, however cannot carry out work from home, a package of support has been introduced.  The Self-Isolation Support Grant provides a £500 grant payment.  Further details are available on our website.

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 linked cases (confirmed or suspected) of COVID-19 in a setting within 14 days - where cross transmission has been identified

 or

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

If an organisation suspects a COVID-19 outbreak, they should immediately inform their local NHS board Health Protection Team (HPT). The organisation may be then contacted by them, as they may get information from NHS Test & Protect or other sources.

In the event of an outbreak:

  • continue to follow general guidelines to reduce risk
  • 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 ‘General guidelines to prevent spread of COVID-19' (detailed above) 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 - this is rarely needed to control an outbreak and should only be done following advice from the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team

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

Emergency, evacuation and accident response processes therefore should have been considered to ensure effective arrangements are in place. Everyone onsite should be familiar with new processes.

Safe home working

Home working may be new to some and may have been implemented at pace, without normal health and safety planning to ensure people have suitable working arrangements and equipment. Companies should consider that, and how to best support working from home (for example, provision of laptops, mobile phones, video conferencing services etc).

Workstation safety

Employers must also protect their workers from the health risks of working with display screen equipment (DSE). This applies to workers who use a DSE daily, for an hour or more, and also includes home workers.

Employers must:

  • do a DSE workstation assessment
  • reduce risks, including making sure workers take breaks
  • provide an eye test if a worker asks for one
  • provide training and information for workers

Advice on the safe use of display screen equipment is provided by the Health and Safety Executive.

Checklist

Businesses may find it helpful to use a checklist to implement the guidance. See the example checklist developed by UNITE.


First published: 21 Aug 2020 Last updated: 30 Oct 2020 -