handicare installation repair
Companies such as Handicare have already introduced safety measures as they continued to work throughout the lockdown

THIIS has taken an in-depth look into the government’s latest guidance to businesses working in people’s homes during the pandemic and has highlighted key elements to help mobility companies reopen safely.

Across the mobility sector, many companies have continued to work in people’s homes during the lockdown, providing essential repairs, maintenance and installations for equipment, such as stairlifts and hoists, which have been vital for keeping people safe in the community and out of hospitals.

It has resulted in many companies putting in place their own safe working policies to protect their staff and customers, however, as England moves towards potentially easing lockdown restrictions in June, the government has outlined further steps that companies can implement.

According to the government, this specific guidance “applies to those working in, visiting or delivering to home environments,” including those providing repair and fitting services in homes, as well as delivery drivers momentarily at people’s homes.

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COVID-19 risk assessment

All employers need to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment and have a legal obligation to protect employees’ health and safety.

(Read the ‘risk assessment’ section of our ‘deep dive for reopening retail premises safely’ for the steps companies should go through when creating their risk assessment)

Relating specifically to companies operating in customers’ homes, the government has outlined key steps that should be considered in a risk assessment.

Working in the homes of vulnerable people

Importantly, the first step states: “No work should be carried out in a household which is isolating because one or more family members has symptoms or where an individual has been advised to shield – unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household.”

For many companies that install, repair and service home adaptations, working in the households of those shielding may well be unavoidable, particularly where this equipment is required to keep people in the community and out of hospitals.

Providing clarity to companies in the sector, the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) confirms that mobility companies can respond to requests from people shielding from coronavirus if the person’s safety is at risk.

Sarah Lepak, Director of Governance & Policy for the BHTA, counsels: “It is our understanding that ‘household’ relates to the persons at that location. Therefore, for example, if someone’s safety is put at risk because their stairlift is not working and they are OK with someone attending, with appropriate precautions being taken (of course), then that activity can take place.” ​

The second step says: “When working in a household where somebody is clinically vulnerable, but has not been asked to shield, for example, the home of someone over 70, prior arrangements should be made with vulnerable people to avoid any face-to-face contact, for example, when answering the door. You should be particularly strict about handwashing, coughing and sneezing hygiene, such as covering your nose and mouth and disposing of single-use tissues.”

The third step advises companies to regularly check the latest government guidance and apply it to their particular operations. Key measures employees should take include:

  • Washing hands more often, particularly after coughing, sneezing or nose blowing
  • Covering mouths and noses with a tissue or sleeve if no tissue is available, and immediately throw the tissue in a bin
  • Regularly cleaning touched objects and surfaces using regular cleaning products
  • Communicating with households prior to any visit to discuss how the work will be carried out to minimise risk for all parties
  • Maintaining social distance as far as possible

Sharing the risk assessment with customers and employees

After carrying out the full risk assessment, the government advises companies to share the risk assessment with employees working in homes and with the households being visited.

In addition, the government guidance says, where possible, risk assessment results should be shared on a company’s website – this is expected of any business that employs over 50 employees.

Click here to find a risk assessment notice specifically for working in homes that mobility companies can display on its premises, online, in vehicles and across other channels.

Who should work in homes?

With the message remaining in place that all employees should work from home wherever possible, the government’s guidance does acknowledge that for providers of in-home services, this is often not a possibility.

To minimise the risks to employees that would usually work in homes, the government identifies several measures that companies should implement.

Steps companies can take to protect employees working in homes:

  • Find digital or remote alternatives to physical, in-home work where possible – Throughout the industry, there are a number of examples of this, including video assessments introduced by Handicare and Anglia Stairlifts, as well as video demonstrations offered by Theraposture
  • Discuss the working environment and practices with householders and clients in advance to confirm how the work will be carried out when a physical visit is required
  • Stay in regular contact with workers who are usually met with face-to-face on their working arrangements, including their welfare, mental and physical health and personal security

Guidance relating to vulnerable employees

Employees identified as clinically extremely vulnerable – those with specific underlying conditions who have received a letter to confirm they are in this group – are strongly advised not to work outside the home, states the guidance.

Employers with workers who are deemed to be clinically vulnerable – those at high risk of severe illness or have pre-existing conditions – are instructed to help these workers to take extra care in observing social distancing and help them to work from home, either in their current role or in an alternative role.

Importantly, for those clinical vulnerable employees that are unable to work from home, companies should offer these individuals the opportunity to work in the safest roles available to enable them to maintain a two-metre distance from others.

In the event that these workers do have to spend time within two metres of others, it is the responsibility of employers to determine whether the level of risk is acceptable, according to the guidance.

In particular, the government highlights that, as for any workplace risk, “you must take into account specific duties to those with protected characteristics, including, for example, expectant mothers who are, as always, entitled to suspension on full pay if suitable roles cannot be found. Particular attention should also be paid to people who live with clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.”

Obligations if an employee or someone in their household contracts coronavirus

Notably, the government guidance stresses that companies must ensure that individuals who are advised to self-isolate because either they or someone they live with has coronavirus symptoms do not physically go to work.

If someone lives in a household and is the first to have symptoms, they must self-isolate for seven days. Everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days. If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, the person with the new symptoms must self-isolate for seven days. This is regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period.

Employees must receive any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) due to them from their first day of self-isolation, including if someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms – companies with employees on a PAYE payroll scheme can use the government’s Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme to claim back the SSP for up to two weeks.

Social distancing when working in homes

The government advice emphasises the importance of maintaining, wherever possible, two metres of social distance from others in all areas of the business, including travelling between sites, on arrival and departure, and when in people’s homes.

Travelling to and from homes

Companies should have staff travel to sites alone using their own transport, where insurance allows, suggests the government.

Where employees have no option but to travel together, such as delivery teams, the guidance encourages employers to implement the following steps:

  • Journeys should be with the same individuals and limited in the number of people travelling per vehicle
  • Maintain good ventilation, for example keeping windows open and passengers facing away from one another to reduce risk of transmission
  • Regularly clean vehicles using gloves and standard cleaning products, with emphasis on handles and other areas where passengers may touch surfaces
  • Where possible, employers should match workers to households local to them to minimise transportation
  • Employees should wash hands on arrival and maintain social distancing when entering the home

Working within people’s homes

Directly relevant for the mobility sector where assessments may be required, the guidance concedes that “for providers of some in-home services, it will not always be possible to maintain physical distance from customers.”

In these circumstances, the government advises that extra attention needs to be paid to equipment, cleaning and hygiene to reduce risk of transmission.

Regarding working materials such as tools and equipment, the government recommends employers assign materials to individuals to prevent sharing. When sharing of equipment is unavoidable, the government encourages companies to limit the number of people sharing equipment to the smallest number possible.

 Steps companies can take to maximise social distancing when working in a customer’s home:

  • Discus with households ahead of a visit to ask that a two-metre distance is kept from those working, if possible
  • Ask households to leave all internal doors open to minimise contact with door handles
  • Identify busy areas across the household where people travel to, from or through, for example, stairs and corridors, and minimising movement within these areas – this is particularly important for those installing or working on stairlifts
  • Employees should bring their own food and drink to households and have breaks outside where possible
  • Limit the number of workers within a confined space to maintain social distancing
  • Use a fixed pairing system if people have to work in close proximity – for example, during two-person assembly or maintenance
  • Allocate the same employee or fixed team to a household where jobs are repetitive
  • Identify areas where people need to hand things to each other (such as shared tools and domestic appliances) and find ways to remove direct contact, for example, by designating drop-off points or transfer zones

Meetings with residents in homes

The government advice maintains that face-to-face meetings with customers should be avoided where possible and companies should use remote working and communication tools, such as videoconferencing.

In the event that face-to-face meetings are required in homes, the government outlines measures that can be introduced to reduce the risk of transmission.

  • Only absolutely necessary participants should attend appointments and should maintain two metre separation where possible
  • Avoid transmission during appointments, for example, from sharing pens and other objects
  • Hold meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms whenever possible

Delivering to homes

With many mobility companies offering a white-glove delivery service, including setting up and demonstrating equipment to vulnerable customers, it will be for businesses in the sector to best apply government advice around deliveries to fit with the need to ensure customers are comfortable and confident to operate their mobility equipment safely.

Steps companies can take to maximise safety when delivering products to customers’ homes:

  • Minimise contact during deliveries wherever possible
  • Where possible and safe, having single workers load or unload vehicles
  • Where possible, use the same pairs of people for loads where more than one is needed
  • Minimise contact during delivery, for example, by having employees call to inform of their arrival rather than ringing the doorbell
  • Limit the contact during payments and exchange of documentation, for example, using electronic payment methods and electronically signed and exchanged documents

Cleaning after work has been carried out

According to the advice, companies should keep work areas clean, including regularly cleaning objects and surfaces that are touched regularly with regular cleaning products.

Companies should also arrange methods of safely disposing of waste with the householder and remove all waste and belongings from a work area at the end of a shift and at the end of a job, expresses the guidance.

Employees should also maintain good hygiene as outlined previously, as well as have hand sanitiser available in the event that hand washing facilities are unavailable.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and face coverings

For many mobility companies that have been providing their essential services during lockdown, PPE has played an important role in their safety measures.

According to government guidance, companies that are already using PPE in “work activity to protect against non-COVID-19 risks” should continue to do so.

(Read the ‘PPE and face coverings’ section of our ‘deep dive for reopening retail premises safely‘ for advice and steps relating to PPE and face coverings)

Communicating the new way of working

The advice set out by the government will transform how many mobility companies have traditionally worked in the past and to ensure the safety of employees and customers, the government urges employers to provide clear, consistent and regular communications.

Steps companies can take to ensure staff remain well informed:

  • Ongoing engagement with workers to monitor and understand any unforeseen impacts of changes to working environments
  • Raise awareness and focus on the importance of mental health at times of uncertainty – the government has published separate guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Use simple, clear messaging to explain guidelines using images and clear language, with consideration for those where English may not be a first language
  • Communicate procedures to households to help their adoption before work commences

This guidance is not exhaustive and the government reinforces that companies must consider their particular unique operations and risks when applying the advice to their business

THIIS wants to know what changes and measures you are introducing to ensure employee and customer safety during the lockdown easements. Get in touch with editor Calvin Barnett at calvin@thiis.co.uk to share your thoughts.

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