Covid-19 – Working Safely (3)

Implementing a Covid Worksafe plan

In this chapter, we think about the hazards and risks you identified in your risk assessment and use them to create and implement a plan to make your workplace safe. The first step is to: 

Control the risk

Consider all elements in your risk assessment one by one. For each of them, you should aim to ELIMINATE the risk whenever possible, by using the preventative measures described in part 1 – examples could include:

  • Monitor staff infection levels. Ensure that you have a clear reporting method for any staff that have covid symptoms, and that staff and managers are aware that any suspected cases must remain away from work premises as per government guidelines.
  • Introduce a clear social distancing policy that details how staff and customers should act whilst on your premises.
  • Eliminate shared equipment: create individual named kit for every worker and specify how this kit is kept apart from others’.
  • Introduce clear zoning, so that each worker has their own obvious workspace and customers have clear instructions about where to go and what routes to follow. Enforce this with bold wall and floor signage and visual cues such as colour coding
  • Close areas of congregation – this may mean that staff are not able to use on site facilities such as canteens if you are not able to provide adequate space for social distancing.
  • Outsource elements of production if you cannot safely undertake them in-house.
  • Quarantine non-perishable items that come into your business for a 72 hour period. For perishable items, you could create a suitably temperature controlled quarantine area as long as you are able to operate within use by dates

If you are unable to ELIMINATE any of your identified risks, you must take adequate steps to MINIMISE them. This might include:

  • Regular cleaning schedules for equipment that has to be shared by workers, ensuring surfaces are sanitised between each use.
  • Wear face coverings in circumstances where social distancing is not possible. This should apply to both staff and customers, except in the case of exemptions 
  • Provision of shields between workspaces if individuals are not able to work at least 2m apart
  • Staggered breaks and work schedules to minimise the number of staff on premises at any point in time.

Handwashing remains one of the single most effective ways of reducing infection levels, so on top of any measures identified above, you must ensure staff have regular assess to clean, hot water and soap and are encouraged to use it on entering the premises and before and after touching surfaces and objects, on top of the normal levels of handwashing required to maintain good hand hygiene. Provide sanitising stations for customers and encourage their use, particularly in businesses where customers do not have access to handwashing facilities. Our guide to handwashing best practice provides a useful reminder of effective technique.

Please note – the lists above are not definitive. It is important that you work through your own environment and processes and think carefully about the risks and appropriate controls for your specific situation.

Record your findings and implement them

Add the control measures to your risk assessment document and put everything in place to ensure they take place.

A vital part of this step is COMMUNICATION. In order for your control measures to be effective, everyone must understand their role in the process and carry it out. The best approach to communication is to start with a discussion that allows workers to ask questions and gain a good understanding of your new control measures. Follow this up with a simple written document that allows them to remind themselves of the process, and use simple, bold signage within the workplace to remind them of the most important details as well as communicating any rules your customers must follow.

During the communication stage, do not be afraid of feedback given by staff – listen to what they have to say. Their understanding of some work processes may be greater than yours, or they may have more effective ideas of how to deal with the risks. It may be useful to revisit your plans in light of feedback – working in a collaborative way that recognises the contribution of others is more likely to result in an effective plan that the whole team can work with.

Review your assessment and update if necessary

In light of the rapidly changing situation with Covid-19, you will need to monitor and review your measures on a regular basis to ensure their effectiveness. Some measures, such as staff absence levels should be monitored on a daily basis, in order to identify and deal with any unusual spikes as quickly as possible.

Observe your control measures in action. Do they eliminate or minimise risk in the way that you intended? Do they introduce other, unintended risks (for instance – does increased handwashing create congregation points at sinks?)?

Keep lines of communication with staff open, seek and listen to their feedback and be prepared to adjust control measures if they are not effective. Whilst this is a period of adjustment and is unsettling for everyone, demonstrating that staff and customer welfare is of genuine concern can have a positive long term effect within your workforce, and protect your future business.

Bear in mind that you may need to adjust your plans according to the situation in your local area. Check the government websites for local restrictions: 

Free covid-19 signage, social distancing signage
Free COVID-19 signage / Social distancing signage to help you work within current government guidelines

Covid-19 – Working Safely (2)

 Including Covid-19 in your workplace risk assessment

As we are now facing a new risk, workplace risk assessments need to be updated to include covid-19. In this chapter, we look at the first two steps of the risk assessment process – Identifying the hazards and assessing the risk. 

Employers should already be familiar with the risk assessment process, as they are legally responsible for protecting their employees from harm – failure to do so can lead to prosecution, fines and even prison sentences. If you need a reminder of how to undertake a risk assessment, follow this link to the Health and Safety executive, or work through the Safer Food Group’s Level 2 Health and Safety course for a more detailed understanding. 

Identify the hazards

Hazards are processes, environments or physical objects that may cause harm. In the current climate, you will need to consider a new environmental hazard – the transmission of a highly contagious virus that has the potential to cause serious harm to a large percentage of your workforce and customers. This could be within your business premises, or outside of your premises if you despatch goods or send people to work elsewhere.

Record this process in writing, either in addition to your normal workplace risk assessment, or as a specific document that addresses Covid-19 as an individual risk. This template, created by The Food Standards Agency in Scotland, is a great starting point if you need some help.

Assess the risk

In other words- how likely is the hazard to occur, and how much harm could it cause? 

Unfortunately, in this case, the hazard could cause very significant harm. In business terms, you could experience a depletion in your workforce meaning you cannot continue day to day business, or you could transmit the virus to your customer, damaging your reputation. In personal terms, anyone who contracts the virus may be at risk of a considerable period of sickness, long term health effects or even death.

Using the information in part 1 about methods of transmission, think about the ways the virus can enter and be transmitted around your business. As we have seen, Coronavirus is particularly resistant and robust, surviving both in the air and on surfaces; this is one of the reasons it has become such a dangerous disease.

Consider any person or object coming into your premises as a potential carrier of the disease and think about their journeys as they move around your premises. At what stages in these journeys do these people or objects come into contact with other people or objects? Do workers share equipment, touch the same surfaces, work within a small area?

In your risk assessment, write down all the instances in which a person touches a surface or object that might have been touched by someone else – whether handling stock, ingredients or finished goods, sharing equipment or working in a shared workspace. Consider all of the times within a working day they may be in close proximity to a colleague or customer – don’t forget to think about break times, and periods before work when staff may gather to get changed or access leisure areas, rest areas and lockers.

As part of your assessment, you will need to understand if some people are at greater risk than others, either because of the job that they do, or because of their personal characteristics. Current guidance suggests that no specific groups of the population are unaffected by coronavirus, and as such you must consider all members of staff at risk. However, it is sensible to consider extra measures for those specifically identified as vulnerable, as discussed in part 1. Add this information to your risk assessment document, so you remember to look at each group individually.

Sector specific guidance

The UK government has produced comprehensive guidance for various sectors to help in the risk assessment process. We have provided links below to those of most relevance to the Safer Food Group’s customers, but to view all sector specific guidance to working safely during the pandemic, use this link: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19. These guides also contain sector specific regulations that relate to businesses in England (see part 3 for links to regulations in devolved UK nations)

Childcare and Early Years providers

Factories, plants and warehouses 

Hotels and other guest accommodation

Offices and contact centres

Restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services

Shops and branches

Free covid-19 signage, social distancing signage
Free COVID-19 signage / Social distancing signage to help you work within current government guidelines

Covid-19 – Working Safely (1)

Since the emergence of the pandemic, we have been bombarded with information from all directions – press conferences, official guidelines and new legislation, media reports, industry advice… the list seems almost endless. The purpose of this series of posts is to present the key information to help you keep yourself, your colleagues and your customers safe in your workplace. 

We look at the virus and its impact on our daily lives, then examine the steps you need to take to minimise the risks it poses. We signpost key pieces of expert information that relate to specific sectors, as well as links that will allow you to keep yourself updated with the latest regulations and legislation in your UK location.

Through three sections of the ‘Knowledge’, we will cover: 

  • Symptoms of the disease, methods of transmission and preventative measures   
  • Including covid-19 in your workplace risk assessment
  • Implementing a Covid Worksafe plan

Background and current situation

The novel Coronavirus 2019, officially named Covid-19 by the World Health, emerged in the far East, in late 2019. The virus quickly spread through countries and continents, officially reaching pandemic level in March 2020. The virus combines an ability to spread very quickly with symptoms that prove fatal in some cases – these two factors have created a health crisis of a scale that has not before been experienced in living history.

Different nations have taken different approaches to managing the disease. At the time of writing, the approach in the UK is a government driven programme of guidelines and legislation, aimed at reducing contact between individuals and households, in order to reduce spread and keep infection levels at a manageable level.

1. Symptoms of the disease, methods of transmission and preventative measures

Symptoms and characteristics of the disease 

According to the NHS, the main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • A new continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

Most people with coronavirus have at least 1 of these symptoms. For the latest symptom information, go to the NHS website.

However, we also know that a significant number of people can carry the disease without displaying symptoms – described as ‘asymptomatic’. This is potentially dangerous as a carrier may underestimate the risk of their own actions, and pass onto others.

Vulnerable people

Certain people are particularly vulnerable to contracting and / or suffering serious consequences of covid-19. These include: 

  • Those who are 60-years old or over
  • Those who have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease, or are obese
  • People who smoke
  • People who have difficulty understanding the situation and applying safe practices, including those with special educational needs or dementia.

Transmission methods  

Whilst knowledge surrounding the virus was limited as it emerged, we now have access to more definitive research about the ways in which it spreads from infected to non-infected people. The virus is carried in droplets formed in the respiratory system, and then passed between people in several ways, including: 

During close contact between people – droplets pass from one to the other through air. This is most likely to happen over a distance of 2 metres or less.

Via airborne transmission – unfortunately the virus is particularly resistant and can remain in the air for a period of time, especially in an enclosed space with low ventilation. 

Through contact with contaminated surfaces – due to its resistant nature, covid-19 can remain present for considerable periods of time on surfaces, allowing transmission from an infected person to another person by touching the same surface.

Preventative measures 

Social distancing 

Because of the transmission methods described above, one of the most useful methods of reducing the spread of the virus is maintaining a distance from other people. Ideally this distance should be 2 metres, taking into account the possible reach of airborne particles.

Personal hygiene – Regular thorough handwashing with soap and water reduces the spread of the virus through touch; a high alcohol hand sanitiser is a good substitute in situations where handwashing cannot be carried out. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing – ideally with a disposable tissue. If necessary, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, rather than your hand. People who have a high probability of coming into contact with people from other households (for instance those in caring or teaching roles) are also advised to wash clothes daily, removing them as soon as possible when re-entering the home.

Face coverings and personal protective equipment (PPE)

The current WHO advice states that non-medical face coverings should be worn in public when social distancing is not possible. Research suggests that face coverings, when worn properly, restrict the transmission from the wearer to others. Some people are exempt from wearing face coverings, and if you are in a position where you need to enforce the wearing of masks, it is useful to consider a plan that addresses this sympathetically – for instance, a poster encouraging exempt people to make you aware of their exemption.

The use of gloves can be helpful in situations where objects are passed between one person to another – however, gloves can create a false sense of security and discourage regular handwashing, so consider their use carefully.

Because of the impact of the virus on supplies needed for health and care settings, the use of medical grade PPE is only recommended in workplaces that genuinely require its use.

Cleaning

Regular thorough cleaning of surfaces and touch points (such as door handles, handrails, card payment machines) restricts the spread of the virus via contact. Cleaning schedules should be revised to allow cleaning of surfaces between users wherever possible. 

Self-isolation and shielding

If a person displays symptoms or has a positive test, they will need to isolate themselves, i.e. stay in their home and avoid all contact with people outside their household. Those who are particularly vulnerable to the disease, for instance those with underlying health conditions may be advised to shield – that is, to keep themselves isolated throughout the period when the disease remains a danger. This can present a difficult situation for an employer and their member of staff. In all cases, the best way forward is for the member of staff and their employer to agree a suitable way forward; solutions could include switching to suitable duties that can be carried out from home, undertaking remote training or taking a period of annual or unpaid leave. However, employer and employee often have different, equally valuable viewpoints – in these cases the employment advisory service ACAS can prove an invaluable source of advice and experience. 

Free covid-19 signage, social distancing signage
Free COVID-19 signage / Social distancing signage to help you work within current government guidelines

Preparing for Natasha’s Law

Is your business ready?

The UK Food Information Amendment – Natasha’s Law – will come into force in October 2021. An important development in helping prevent the serious effects of food allergies, this law deals with labelling products that have been packed on premises ready for sale. It was brought into force to strengthen the 2014 Food Information to Consumers legislation, and followed a period of dedicated campaigning by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who tragically lost her life after eating a sandwich containing the allergen sesame. At the time, foods prepared in house and packaged for later sale were not required to be labelled individually.

Who does it affect?

Natasha’s law applies to any business that is preparing, packing and selling food from the same premises, or food that is packed and then sold from a mobile stall or vehicle. This includes: cafes and coffee shops, takeaway and fish & chip restaurants, sandwich shops, farm shops, as well as work, school and hospital canteens. Voluntary and charity organisations who undertake fundraising events such as bake sales will also need to consider how they package their goods and whether they need to apply the new rules.

When does it come into force?

Natasha’s law was created in September 2019, and comes into force in October 2021 throughout the UK.

When will Natasha’s Law apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland authorities have confirmed that the law will be adopted throughout the whole of the UK from October 2021.

What foods are covered by Natasha’s law?

Any food which is Pre-Packed for Direct Sale (PPDS); that means prepared in-house, wrapped or placed in packaging and then put on display. This could include products like sandwiches, salads, snacks and cakes. To check if you sell products that are classed as PPDS, use this tool created by the FSA.

What must we do?

All PPDS products will need to be clearly labelled with the name of the food and a full list of all ingredients. Any named allergens (from the 14 named allergens list) must be highlighted within the ingredients list, for example by printing them in bold, italics or a different colour.

What are the penalties for non compliance?

Businesses failing to follow the new rules could face a fine of up to £5,000 per offence. But more importantly, the damage to the reputation of your business if a serious allergy incident occurs is almost impossible to calculate.

What else should I think about?

The death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse highlights the importance of food allergen awareness within all food businesses. Any business that sells or is planning to sell pre-packed foods would be sensible to consider their operations and processes now, in order to allow all required changes to be in place and tested before October 2021.

As well as considering the physical labelling requirements, food businesses will also need to think about their production process and staff training implications. It is vital that your business has a clear allergen policy, which allows both staff and customers to understand any risks that are present to allergy sufferers. Staff must fully understand any processes that they are expected to undertake when creating meals that fulfil any allergy-free claims you make, and those who communicate with customers must be able to do so truthfully and confidently.

Whilst Natasha’s law makes information more readily available and therefore easier for staff to communicate accurate ingredients information, the key message for all staff in food preparation is the importance of consistency in and clear communication of ingredients and recipes. Allergen training, whether in-house or with certified training courses, is a vital step in keeping your customers, staff and your business safe.

What is a Food Safety Management System / HACCP?

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Every food business in the UK has a legal responsibility to:

  • make sure food is safe to eat
  • make sure it doesn’t add, remove or treat food in a way that makes it harmful to eat

A very important part of fulfilling this legal duty is creating a Food Safety Management system, using the principles of Hazard analysis and Critical control points (HACCP). HACCP is a system that helps you identify potential food hazards and introduce procedures to make sure those hazards are removed or reduced to an acceptable level.

These procedures will help you produce and sell food that is safe to eat, providing you:

  • keep up-to-date documents and records relating to your procedures
  • regularly review your procedures to ensure they reflect what you produce or how you work

Creating a HACCP Food Safety Management System

To create a comprehensive food safety management system, you will need to consider the entire journey of the food you produce, starting with the source of your ingredients and covering areas such as food handling, storage, cooking, cleaning and staff training.

A great resource to help you with this is the Safer Food, Better Business resource provided by the Food Standards Agency. This book walks you through each area of your business and tells you what you need to look out for, what records you need to keep, and how often you need to review your processes.

Safer Food, Better Business highlights the importance of good record keeping when producing food that is safe to eat. Good records will instil a culture of diligence within your food business and will also help prove to an EHO that you are doing things right.

The key records that most food businesses will need to keep are:

For more information, The Safer Food Group offer a Level 2 HACCP awareness course that looks into each area of Food Management in closer detail, explaining how to get it right – and what can happen when you don’t!

Important Links

Free 14 allergens poster

FREE – Covid-19/Social Distancing Signage (1M UPDATE)

We have created a full set of standard signage to allow you to operate your business within the latest government guidelines during the pandemic and as we start to get back to trading again. Now all artwork has 1m not 2m distancing information shown.

1m version of COVID-19 FREE signage

Simply download the above document and either print on your own printer or supply to a print shop to produce whatever you need for your new processes.
Please note that floor stickers and some other items may need to be produced to specific guidelines to fit with health & safety requirements.

FREE – Covid-19/Social Distancing Signage

We have created a full set of standard signage to allow you to operate your business within the latest government guidelines during the pandemic and as we start to get back to trading again.

Free covid-19 signage, social distancing signage
Free COVID-19 signage / Social distancing signage to help you work within current government guidelines

Simply download the above document and either print on your own printer or supply to a print shop to produce whatever you need for your new processes.
Please note that floor stickers and some other items may need to be produced to specific guidelines to fit with health & safety requirements.

Free – Food allergy sticker template – Egg

The third of a series of Free allergy warning stickers to help you to track the most dangerous of the 14 allergens we all need to track in our dishes and raw ingredients. Our third template “Contains Egg” just needs printing onto an A4 sticker sheet and then your staff and you will know exactly where these ingredients end up.

This downloadable document and its content remains the property of The Safer Food Group and any adaptation or changes are prohibited, you have the right to take copies and use this resource for your business or individual needs but in no way are permitted to adapt it as your own or to sell on this item for a profit. This document should be used alongside correct food preparation and hygiene procedure and does not negate your legal responsibilities with regard allergen communications and disclosure. The Safer Food Group take no responsibility for the misuse of this document or bad working practices undertaken by any business or individual using our free resources.

Copyright The Safer Food Group 2020

Free – Food allergy sticker template – Gluten

The second of a series of Free allergy warning stickers to help you to track the most dangerous of the 14 allergens we all need to track in our dishes and raw ingredients. Our second template “Contains Gluten” just needs printing onto an A4 sticker sheet and then your staff and you will know exactly where these ingredients end up.

This downloadable document and its content remains the property of The Safer Food Group and any adaptation or changes are prohibited, you have the right to take copies and use this resource for your business or individual needs but in no way are permitted to adapt it as your own or to sell on this item for a profit. This document should be used alongside correct food preparation and hygiene procedure and does not negate your legal responsibilities with regard allergen communications and disclosure. The Safer Food Group take no responsibility for the misuse of this document or bad working practices undertaken by any business or individual using our free resources.

Copyright The Safer Food Group 2020

Free – Food allergy sticker template – Peanuts

The first of a series of Free allergy warning stickers to help you to track the most dangerous of the 14 allergens we all need to track in our dishes and raw ingredients. Our first template “Contains Peanuts” just needs printing onto an A4 sticker sheet and then your staff and you will know exactly where these ingredients end up.

This downloadable document and its content remains the property of The Safer Food Group and any adaptation or changes are prohibited, you have the right to take copies and use this resource for your business or individual needs but in no way are permitted to adapt it as your own or to sell on this item for a profit. This document should be used alongside correct food preparation and hygiene procedure and does not negate your legal responsibilities with regard allergen communications and disclosure. The Safer Food Group take no responsibility for the misuse of this document or bad working practices undertaken by any business or individual using our free resources.

Copyright The Safer Food Group 2020