Media speculation is rife that, in the coming days, the government will outline what it sees as the shape of a cautious, collaborative and safe reopening of the economy.
The business support packages are in place and, in large part, working and we know that business groups are pressing the government to look at ways of developing schemes like the Job Retention Scheme to allow for partial furloughing to facilitate phased or part time returns to work. In addition, much work is going on behind the scenes to establish what safe working looks like in different types of workplace, integrating the workplace itself with transport and supply chains.
Take aviation as an example. Katherine Bennett CBE (Senior Vice President, Airbus) in a CBI webinar today, talked of the operational challenges Airbus faces. It needs to consider what safe looks like in airports, on aircraft and the possibility of health passports, so that staff and consumers can “fly, and fly safely in an efficient aircraft”, she says.
In the same webinar, Tesco Chairman, John Allan CBE, explained the challenges of making their environment safe whilst continuing to operate throughout, comparing it to the challenges faced in his role in Barratt Developments PLC, which shut completely. Barratts are now cautiously set to reopen pilot construction sites, having worked with trade bodies to develop safe working practices. He stressed the need for workplaces to be both objectively safe and perceived to be safe by staff and public alike.
On a practical note, both John and Katherine were willing to share the checklists and measures they have developed for their own industries with others. Working with staff to develop the measures, making sure staff understand them and policing the measures are all important.
Barratts’ pilot sites will:
- Limit the numbers on site, 50% or workforce
- Widen walkways or add refuges
- PPE where it is unavoidable that staff have to work together
- Stagger arrival times – no surges
- Plan canteen & washroom arrangements
- Staff constantly reminded of measures
- Policed through site managers, site wardens, Health & safety Directorate inspections and Barratts’ own safety team
John Allan suggests that in restarting the economy, we do not try to turn the clock back, rather that we learn from our experiences during the crisis and do things better.
He cites working from home as a major lesson learned. Businesses have discovered that people are working effectively from home, and that there is no requirement for them to rush back to being office based. There are many benefits here, not least of which is to take the pressure off public transport, which given the need to maintain social distancing measures, will probably operate at approximately 25% of capacity. The second major benefit may be that businesses can operate from much reduced office spaces, meaning that in the difficult economic conditions that are likely to be with us for some time, economies can be made on office space rather than people.
“ We are all keen to see the safe reopening of our economy. There is a great deal of work going into planning what safe working will look like across many different types of workplace, together with the impact on transport, supply chains and other infrastructure. As an SME ourselves, we have seen that it is possible to adapt quickly to a new way of working and we will be keen to use the lessons we have learned to benefit our clients and our business going forward.”