When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, many thought it was merely a momentary break from their usual routine. Three lockdowns later, what most businesses in the UK initially considered as a brief lull from operations has become a long-drawn-out fight for economic survival. The hospitality industry, which depends on social activities and face-to-face interaction, has been heavily impacted, with 55% of its sectors still shut down as of March 2021.
The easing of restrictions due to the vaccination rollout gives hope to the hospitality industry. But returning to operations should not be taken lightly. The coronavirus remains a threat, and the pressure to comply with new health and safety regulations only intensifies. Businesses must not only protect the well-being of their customers in a challenging situation; they should also have a plan to offset the disastrous economic effects of the pandemic. How could the hospitality industry get back on its feet?
Here are the basics that everyone in the industry should know to ensure that their transition back to work goes smoothly.
Covid Guidance in UK
The COVID-19 Secure guidance provides hospitality businesses with recommendations on how to continue their operations efficiently and safely within the pandemic restrictions and go back to work. It also aids workers and business owners of temporarily closed venues to prepare for reopening. The guidance is not a legal document and does not replace any existing health and safety legislation. However, it is an essential piece of information aimed at helping various hospitality sectors design their own specific security measures that best fit the type of services they provide.
Take note that the guidance goes hand in hand with the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown and may undergo adjustments as new developments occur. For instance, the roadmap states that bars, pubs, and restaurants can start serving groups of up to six people in outdoor areas beginning 12 April 2021. However, the venue must keep groups apart by spacing out tables, using barriers, or managing the number of customers. The restrictions may change over a minimum period of five weeks, depending on the infection rates.
Completing a COVID-19 risk assessment is vital for mitigating the spread of coronavirus in the workplace. The process will help business owners protect their staff and customers as it allows them to classify the hazards, thus effectively managing the risks.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), businesses should identify the likely causes of transmission, determine who is at risk, how that person could be exposed, and control the risk if removing it is impossible.
Employers should update their risk assessment to incorporate changes in restrictions, such as revisions in local or national guidelines. Another factor to consider is that some people are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus or may suffer worse outcomes if infected. For this reason, employers should talk with their workers about the measures they are taking in keeping everyone in the working environment safe.
The HSE also suggests practical steps that businesses can carry out to reduce health risks on the premises. Such include social distancing in queues and seating areas, alternating shifts, and adding more handwashing facilities.
Under the law, employers are responsible for the safety and well-being of their employees, visitors, and customers. It is, therefore, their duty to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus to the lowest possible level by managing the hazards and putting in place preventive measures.
The COVID-19 Secure guidelines recommend doable actions to lessen the risk of virus transmission. Businesses should impose frequent handwashing and cleaning of surfaces that are touched a lot. They should make sanitizers or washing facilities available for customers and workers. They should remind everyone on the premises to wear a suitable face covering and provide the staff with the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Another crucial safety protocol that hospitality businesses should adhere to is social distancing. They should also regulate the number of customers in the venue to avoid overcrowding. If contact between customers and staff is unavoidable, business owners should install barriers or screens, particularly in enclosed areas. Encouraging contactless payments where possible is another way to lessen face-to-face interaction.
Lastly, venues must have sufficient ventilation through vents, windows, and doors because fresh air helps minimise transmission of the virus.
Update Food Management Systems
Food businesses that plan to reopen should review their Food Safety Management System to re-start their operations safely. The Food Standards Agency has set a checklist to guide and prepare such businesses in reopening their venues.
The UK experienced an increase in the usage of food delivery and takeaway due to COVID-19. Existing food businesses who want to take advantage of this by adding takeaway or delivery services to their activities should notify their local authority of their intention. They also need to adjust their Food Safety Management System to ensure food is suitable for consumption and refer to the safe food delivery guidelines for risk management and safety protocols.
Employers should also check that their employees are fit for work and are not suffering from illnesses or diseases that could affect food safety. In other words, any staff showing COVID-19 symptoms should follow the government’s guidelines and self-isolate for as long as necessary. Every employee should have access to the appropriate PPE as required by law.
Before re-starting and going back to work, operations, businesses should conduct an onsite survey to determine if the venue can handle the new safety measures. It includes checking the ventilation system, spacing out tables, setting up screens, and marking floors for social distancing. They should also ensure that the place is free from any pest activity, check that the equipment is working, and disinfect all areas, especially food preparation spaces.
The workforce should thoroughly understand the COVID-19 safety procedures, including new terminologies and processes mentioned in the guidelines. All employees need to undergo back to work food hygiene training on the current laws and rules. They must also be aware of any updates that result from the changes in regulations. More importantly, the staff must understand the hazards they face daily and learn how to manage these by applying the required safety measures. Click here to find a free reopening hospitality course.
Additionally, workers should be conscious of the symptoms of coronavirus (high temperature, continuous cough, loss of smell or taste) so they know when to stay at home and prevent the risk of spreading the virus.