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Returning to the office

Returning to the office

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As lockdown starts to lift, it is not just pubs and restaurants that are starting to navigate a new ‘COVID-secure’ world.  While the government is still recommending work from home where possible, many businesses are now starting the journey of facilitating a return to offices for staff who, perhaps due to restrictions on space and facilities at home, either want or need to return to office working to be able to fulfil their roles.  This is new territory (I will try to avoid overuse of the word ‘unprecedented!’), and it is inarguably challenging to balance employee requirements with risk.  I think we have all had to come to terms with the fact that we don’t live in a risk-free world, and the best we can do is to manage and mitigate the risk through the application of multiple measures with the aim of preventing COVID from spreading.

The starting point, as guided by the Health & Safety Executive, is a risk assessment, and several providers have developed propositions to support clients, from online individual employee risk assessments to COVID testing and temperature testing.  While none of the measures are failsafe, combined with physical adjustments to office spaces (one-way systems, barrier systems, hand sanitising stations etc.) and social distancing, a return to an office environment becomes a reality, and a welcome one for many.

Some reputable providers (for example, Bupa and Nuffield Health) are now able to offer both antigen (do you have COVID-19) and antibody (have you had COVID-19) tests; however, it is very important to note that these tests cannot replace any of the other measures in place, and social distancing, frequent handwashing, physical barriers etc. should all play a part in your policy.  While testing does have a place in a return to work strategy, the value of the antibody test is especially debated given that there is no clinical or scientific consensus as to a) whether an individual can contract COVID-19 twice, and b) if antibodies do prove to protect against a second infection, how long these antibodies are effective for.  Even the antigen test is of course not 100% accurate, and won’t be able to tell you if you have walked past someone sneezing and contracted the virus five minutes after taking the test.  All of these factors must be taken into consideration.

As the research develops, and the pandemic (and our response to it) progresses, we will all need to be flexible to keep up with the changing situation, and we will keep you up to date with developments in the market.

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