Social distancing and hygiene in the workplace

What is the current advice on social distancing?

The government advice is to minimise social interaction outside our homes. This includes advice to employers to enable staff to work from home wherever practicable.

If it is not practicable, other measures should be considered. One of the most important of these is the two-metre rule: keeping two metres between colleagues and any other staff they may work with.

Why is two metres so important?

The most likely way of catching COVID-19 is when someone infected coughs or sneezes and their droplets are passed to other people through their mouth, nose or eyes. By maintaining a distance of two metres you minimise the risk of this happening. However, it is also important you wash your hands thoroughly and regularly as droplets are also likely to be found on surfaces you touch.

The Welsh Government has put additional requirements in place that make it clear that the two-metre social distancing rule applies to any workplace, including homes, where work and repairs are being undertaken, and outdoor spaces. All businesses must take all reasonable measures to ensure the two-metre rule is maintained between people on their premises whenever work is being carried out.

Are there any other measures that can help maintain social distancing?

Yes, the fewer people you have face-to-face social interaction with the better. Therefore, you and your employer should look at other measures by minimising face-to-face meetings or gatherings and using other ways of communicating such as through the telephone or video conference.

Other measures could include minimising close contact with the public, by looking at alternative ways of helping the public, limiting the members of the public who are in a room/space at any given time, and even erecting barriers (such as Perspex screens).

What about those most at risk such as those with underlying health conditions?

Additional measures should be considered, and advice and guidance can be found at our main COVID 19 advice page.

What do I do if my employer is not doing enough to maintain social distancing?

You should contact your local branch, who may be able to talk to and persuade the employer to adopt other measures. For example, following UNISON representation some refuse firms have reduced the number of people permitted in the cab of a refuse vehicle to two, allowing staff to maintain a safe social distance.

What if my job makes it necessary to have close contact with the public?

In some jobs close contact with the clients, patients, students or children cannot be avoided. However, there are still measures your employer can take to keep you safe. All staff should minimise very close contact (i.e. less than one metre).

In addition, anybody who shows any symptoms should be isolated and contact with those people should be limited to those who have been provided with the appropriate training and personal protective equipment (PPE). To find out more about PPE and when it should be provided go to our guide.

Hygiene

Employers should provide additional pop-up handwashing stations or facilities if possible, providing preferably soap and hot running water which are the most effective and safest way of killing the virus. If that is not possible you can use hand gel but should ensure that you take care to rub it into your hands.

Please note you need to be cautious about how you use alcohol based hand sanitisers or gel. Although alcohol helps in killing the virus it can also, if incorrectly used, burn your hands. If only alcohol based hand sanitisers are available, you must make sure all the liquid has evaporated, by shaking your hands and, not touching any surface for at least one minute after use. When storing such products employers must ensure they are kept away from heat, sparks, open flames & hot surfaces.

Other government and employer advice

The Welsh Government has put additional requirements in place that make it clear that the two-metre social distancing rule applies to any workplace, including homes, where work and repairs are being undertaken, and outdoor spaces. All businesses must take all reasonable measures to ensure the two-metre rule is maintained between people on their premises whenever work is being carried out.

Guidance has also been issued for all local government workers on National Joint Council Terms (PDF).

This makes it clear that employers have a responsibility to ensure social distancing rules are adhered to, and that where this is not possible, it will be necessary for some workers, particularly those considered at risk, to remain at home, or where agreed, be redeployed elsewhere.

It also advises employers, who have not already done so, to undertake urgent risk assessments to ensure that social distancing rules are followed in all council vehicles, such as refuse vehicles by for example reducing numbers in a cab. UNISON recommends as best practice, one in a cab, and not more than two.