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Preparing your business for social distancing

The McDonald’s in the Dutch city of Arnhem is a little different from its other branches. With trolley service, carefully-spaced waiting spots and plastic barriers between tables, this prototype restaurant has been redesigned with social distancing in mind.

As more businesses look to reopen safely, similar measures will need to be rolled out across the board. Social distancing, which involves staying at least two metres from other people, is at the heart of these changes.

We’ve taken a close look at the official guidance and examples of social distancing in shops, restaurants and construction, to help you prepare.

What is the advice for social distancing at work?

The government’s latest advice for working safely during coronavirus is based around five main steps:

  1. Carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment
  2. Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
  3. Help people to work from home
  4. Maintain 2m social distancing, where possible
  5. Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk

Eight different sets of guidelines have been published, covering a range of different industries, jobs and workplaces. From lab technicians to lorry drivers, there are some similar themes across sectors and some of it will be familiar to you already.

Key points include using signage, floor tape and paint to help people maintain a two metre distance, reviewing workplace layouts and one-way traffic systems to reduce congestion. Check out the industry-specific advice for more granular detail relating to your industry.

The guidelines also recognise that social distancing will be difficult in some scenarios, such as kitchen work and two-person tasks like lifting or maintenance. In these cases, there are suggested ‘mitigating actions’ to reduce the risk of transmission between staff.

Shops and supermarkets

Supermarkets have played a crucial role in this pandemic, keeping the nation fed and quickly responding to increased demand. They’ve also been among the first businesses to modify their stores in line with social distancing measures.

Most supermarkets are strongly advising customers to pay using contactless payments, for example. And perspex screens at checkouts have now become fairly commonplace. Here are a few other supermarket-specific examples:

  • Waitrose is introducing dedicated marshals to manage queues and maintain a two-metre distance between customers.
  • Tesco is asking shoppers to shop on their own when possible. Aldi is encouraging customers to visit during quieter periods, like 7pm-10pm.
  • Asda is asking shoppers to pick up only what you intend to buy.

Smaller food shops and newsagents are starting to follow a similar approach to supermarkets, but many non-food stores and other types of retail remain closed. The government’s guidance for shops and branches is designed to help these businesses ‘consider what their operations may need to look like when they are allowed to open.’

Bars and restaurants

At this stage, it’s still not entirely clear how socially-distanced pubs and restaurants will work. For now, bars, seated restaurants and cafes must stay shuttered, unless they offer a takeaway only service.

Britain’s leading hospitality trade association, UKHospitality, has issued guidance to help the sector reopen safely. It recommends an end to hotel buffets and new approaches to table setting, for instance, so cutlery isn’t left on tables for long periods. Considerate pint-drinkers will also be discouraged from returning their empty glasses.

The government advice for restaurants offering takeaway or delivery has more detail, but here are a few key points around food preparation:

  • Spacing workstations 2m apart as much as possible, recognising the difficulty of moving equipment such as sinks, hobs and ovens
  • Minimising access to walk-in pantries, fridges and freezers – with only one person being able to access these areas at a time
  • Minimising contact at ‘handover’ points with other staff, such as when presenting food to serving staff and delivery drivers

Ultimately, social distancing will have significant cost implications too. We spoke to Raps Gill, Founder of members club Vaal & Vaal, who said: “if you can only let in half of your customers, then you’ll have to either double your costs or find a way to halve them”.

Construction and other outdoor work

The construction industry has been one of the first to restart in the UK. But like bars and restaurants, implementing social distancing on a building site isn’t easy.

Building work requires a lot of two-person working, which the government has tried to address in its guidance. Workarounds include using a consistent pairing system if people have to work in close proximity.

Balfour Beatty, the largest construction group in the country, has published its site operating procedures, which reflect government recommendations when social distancing isn’t viable:

  • Workers should work side by side, or facing away from each other, rather than face to face
  • Lower the worker capacity of lifts and hoists to reduce congestion and contact at all times
  • Increase ventilation in enclosed spaces
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