Ahead of non-essential retailers reopening on June 15, the BID held its latest ‘how to make sure you are safe to open’ business support call as part of its Back To Business campaign.
Bernadette Reed, Senior Environmental Health Officer at Cheltenham Borough Council talked to businesses about –1. How to make sure they were safe to reopen. The approach to ensuring safe working during the Covid pandemic
Bernadette is essentially one of the Officers responsible for advising and enforcing on food safety, health and safety and infectious disease legislation and good practice within the Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC). As an Environmental Health officer she was also given the relevant powers to enforce the recent ‘Restriction Regulations’ which required certain businesses and venues to close. These restrictions have been lifted gradually sector by sector since their introduction in March 2020 with the most recent amendment allowing non-essential retailers and some visitor attractions to open for business. There are eight sector specific business guides on how to make sure your business is ‘covid secure’ which can be found here and in particular, guidance for shops on how to work safely can be found here. This is a very novel situation and updates are being released on a regular basis. Theses guidance documents were revised on 15th June and The BID and CBC recommend that businesses check for any changes which may affect them for example the recommended quarantine period for returned clothes etc for example now states 48hrs not 72hrs which businesses may wish to take account of.
Due to the difficult and uncertain times for businesses the key message from Bernadette regarding compliance was one of engagement and encouragement in the first instance with enforcement as a last resort for blatant breaches.
While reducing the transmission risks form COVID may be new to businesses the approach to controlling risks is not and the same systematic approach should be adopted for COVID as you would do for any other health and safety hazard, electricity, legionella and asbestos etc. The requirement to control the transmission of COVID within the workplace comes under long established health and safety legislation.
CBC have two officers, Bernadette and Sadie, who are authorised to advise and enforce Health and legislation including COVID security. They have been out and about this week and their priority is to help get businesses back up and running safely. Bernadette was pleased to see how hard businesses had been working so far to get things right including dialling in to the support call or contacting her directly for advice.
The challenge for the businesses now along with many others is to try and get COVID-secure, which is the condition of being able to trade and letting the public know that you will be trading safely. If the public can see that you have controls in place it will in turn encourage them to come into your business and shop. It is the businesses responsibility to do this and CBC is here to help them succeed.
Before reopening all businesses, or when businesses are allowed back in to their premises a risk assessment must be carried out – if a business needs assistance with how to conduct a risk assessment Bernadette can help and advise during these times. An important point is if you have five or less employees on site it does not have to be an actual written assessment, points can be verbally communicated, over five it is more difficult to communicate. Bernadette recommends however that all businesses regardless of size put pen to paper, even if it is just bullet points as this will help businesses to review the controls in these rapidly changing times. Businesses with more than five employees must document the findings of the assessment and there is excellent information on the HSE website here.
Businesses with more than 50 employees are encouraged to put the findings of their assessments on their website. Bernadette wanted to stress that a risk assessment is not a document it is a process and what she sometimes finds is a business has a really good document on paper but it doesn’t translate to a good practice on the ground and conversely just because a document is a little inadequate or poor it doesn’t translate to bad practice. The two go hand in hand.
It is also important for a business to constantly reassess the practicalities of their controls and check they work. Once the business has stabilized then this monitoring can be scaled back. The simple measures are the most effective and if a business can demonstrate they have given due regard as to what measures are needed and can demonstrate they have been implemented then the enforcement officer will be happy. This may be done remotely or by a site spot visit as appropriate.
These are unique circumstances and Bernadette would ask businesses to try and push to be on the upper end of the COVID- compliance level. Sometimes what the what the public deem necessary is not necessarily what the law requires.
If any businesses have any questions or need that extra bit of help to become COVID -secure please email Bernadette direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
2.Social distancing and other practicalities
The BID has made 2 metre social distancing stickers available to all business for inside and outside of their businesses to help with queue management.
Kristan Tarr, Primark store manager, talked to businesses about how he had welcomed back his first colleagues through COVID-secure safety briefings which included reintroductions, new ways of working, physical changes to the store and updated controls at work, including first aid, deliveries and various equipment changes.
Primark are taking on extra precautions to help provide a safe environment in store, including social distancing protocols, hand sanitisers, perspex screens at tills and added store cleaning.
There will be limits on the number of customers who will be allowed in store at any one time to allow for the appropriate distance between customers and employees. A limited number of baskets will be available at the entrance to assist in managing customer quantity and contamination of the baskets. Clear signage and floor decals have been placed around the store across all three levels to guide customers.
Cheltenham BID 2 metre social distancing stickers will be placed outside of store to help manage the long queue with customers being guided to queue up North Street.
3.Will appointment-only work best for your business?
For very small businesses, professional services, and specific traders the BID highlighted the fact that appointment-only services could work well.
Sophie Scarrott, the owner of Keith Scarrott Shoes located on The Promenade, explained to the businesses that appointment-only will be the safest way to allow customers into her small high-class shoe shop. The fact that customers have taken the time to book an appointment in the first place means that they are more likely to buy products then and there. She can ask the customer pre-appointment what styles of shoes they are interested in, get them ready and, after they have tried them on, quarantine unwanted shoes for the recommended amount of time.
There is a free scheduling tool available on Facebook that allows businesses to set-up and manage appointments via their Facebook business page. The tool allows you to manage your appointments, lets customers find and book online and automatically reminds customers of their booking. Need help setting this up? Email email@example.com
4.Marketing top tips
Communication with employees, the public, direct, and current customers’ needs to be emphasised now more than ever.
WHAT do businesses need to communicate?
When you are planning to reopen? If you do not know yet produce an update
What changes you put in place to become COVID-secure
<Do you have social distancing measures in place?
<How many customers are you allowing into your business at one time?
<Are you supplying customers with hand sanitisers, till Perspex’s?
<COVID-secure posters and signs
What new services you are offering
<click and collect
If your changing rooms are open
If you are now offering a refund service
If you have a quarantine system in place for products that have been touched and tried on
WHERE do businesses need to communicate their messages?
Website – blog/page/pop-up
Direct customer comms – email/phone/letters
5.Q & A
The businesses asked a few questions which the BID team and Bernadette were able to answer.
Does the council have a list of businesses who are open and are due to open?
The BID has produced this list and are updating the information daily. The information has been shared with our partners including the town centre team, CBC, and Gloucestershire Police. The current non-editable list was shared with the businesses on the call.
What are the minimal legal requirements for a business to be COVID-secure?
The five main areas are: working from home where possible, the risk assessment section, social distancing, hand washing and where people cannot be 2m apart to manage transmission risk. For all sector specific guidance please see the updated Government guidance here.
Have there been any complaints so from the public?
The complaints heard have been about the behaviour of other shoppers getting to close to each other in businesses and not about businesses themselves not adhering to social distancing.
The businesses need to be making it clear where their customers must queue. With more businesses reopening, it is important for neighbours to be communicating with each other and working closely together to management outside queues.