Factories, Plants and Warehouses – Maintaining Social Distancing
Updated: Aug 14
As the lockdown restrictions brought in to control the COVID-19 pandemic are slowly relaxed and more businesses reopen, the priority will be on doing this safely.
Factories and warehouses have different problems from conventional office or retail space and the measures that need to be taken to keep employees safe will be specific to these work environments. The government has issued sector-specific guidance, including ways to restructure workspaces to facilitate social distancing.
The Government has made it clear that workers should not be forced into an unsafe workplace and social distancing must be maintained wherever possible. The overarching aim of the guidance is to ensure that as many people as possible are kept more than two metres apart from those with whom they do not live.
How to maintain social distancing
Employers should look at the type of tasks being performed by each employee in the business and whether systems can be put in place to make sure that employees do not come within two metres of each other. This may be difficult in factories, plants and warehouses, given the nature of work.
The following practices should be considered:
Arrival at and departure from work
Stagger arrival and departure times to reduce crowding. Make sure to bear in mind those with protected characteristics.
Think about increasing the number of entry or exit points.
Use markings or one-way systems at entry or exit points.
Provide handwashing facilities if possible - and hand sanitiser if not - at entry and exit points.
Provide alternatives to touch-based security devices. Turnstile pass readers should be deactivated, and employees should instead be required to show their pass to security staff at a safe distance.
Provide extra parking or facilities such as bike racks to encourage employees to avoid public transport.
Corporate vehicles, including minibuses, should have passenger limits and seat arrangements that allow social distancing where possible.
Movement around factories, plants and warehouses
Discourage non-essential trips around the workplace. Telephones or radios should be used where possible. Clean any such devices between use.
Reduce job and equipment rotation as far as possible.
Introduce one-way systems through factories, plants or warehouses.
Encourage use of stairs wherever possible.
Reduce maximum lift occupancy, provide hand-sanitiser in lifts and use floor markings to keep the permitted number of lift users as far apart as possible and facing away from each other.
Make sure people with disabilities are able to access lifts.
Reduce the occupancy of on-site shuttle buses and other vehicles.
Regulate the use of high-traffic areas such as walkways, corridors, turnstiles and lifts to maintain social distancing.
Workplaces and workstations
Review layouts, processes or line set-ups in order to keep workers at least two metres apart.
Use tape or paint markings to reinforce the two-metre distance rule.
Use remote meeting tools such as video conferencing wherever possible.
If meetings must be conducted in person, restrict attendance to necessary personnel only and ensure a two-metre distance between attendees at all times.
Provide hand sanitiser in meeting rooms.
Do not share objects such as pens, pads or electronic tools during meetings to avoid transmission.
Hold meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms wherever possible.
Use floor markings to help attendees maintain social distancing.
Stagger break times to avoid crowds in break rooms or eating places. Avoid opening canteens where possible. Packaged meals could be provided instead.
Encourage workers to eat in safe outside areas that exist on-site. Discourage them from eating off-site.
Use areas that have been freed up by remote working as additional break rooms to reduce crowding.
Install screens to protect front of house staff such as receptionists.
Rearrange furniture to maintain social distancing and reduce face-to-face interaction.
Use floor marking or signs for toilets, changing rooms, showers, lockers or any other on-site areas which staff are likely to share.
It is only if the nature of the work or activity being carried out makes it impossible to stay two metres apart that the employer should think about whether the work or activity is necessary and, if so, whether mitigating actions can be taken to reduce the risk of contact.
What to do if social distancing guidelines cannot be followed
If social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full for a particular task or activity, the employer should look at whether the activity needs to continue for the business to operate. If it does, then all possible mitigating actions must be taken to reduce the risk of contact between employees.
A COVID-19 risk assessment should have been carried out before asking employees to return to work. The risk assessment will have identified actions to be taken to reduce the risk for any particular task to as low a level as practicably possible.
Such actions include:
Increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning;
Keeping activity duration as short as possible;
Using screens or barriers to separate people;
Avoiding face-to-face working wherever possible - use back-to-back or side-to-side working instead;
Reducing the number of people in regular contact within the business – think about making small, fixed teams to ensure limited contact.
If face-to-face working for a sustained period of time cannot be avoided, then it should be considered whether the activity can safely go ahead. Employers cannot make people work in an unsafe environment, and they could face action by regulators or court appearances if they try to do so.
It is important to remember that the Government guidance does not replace the existing legal obligations of businesses relating to health and safety, employment or equality. Businesses should take account of agency workers, contractors and members of the public when preparing for a return to work.