For the past couple of months we have been working hard to put new processes, layouts and routines into practice, to reduce the risk to our staff and our customers of the virus Covid-19, and ensure that we are not providing unnecessary opportunities for the virus to be transmitted.
The practical guidance measures relating to hand washing, social distancing, and avoiding work if you are showing symptoms, have been in place for some time, but we have gradually been able to make changes to the workplace, while still working to process customer orders every day with a low level of staffing.
Our stores have been closed by the government for now, and we will be assessing the opportunities for reopening as the situation evolves and we are able to do so in a safe way, for customers and staff. Further details of how we will be accommodating in-store customers safely will be published when we are due to open.
Our focus has been to create an environment which is safe for all staff to eventually come back to work, and we are achieving this through the following measures:
There are many areas where we have felt the need to make changes to ensure these rules can be followed, and more examples will be contained in the full risk assessments, which have been formatted to work alongside the most recent government guidance on assessing the workplace risks posed by Covid-19.
Our staff have familiarised themselves with the full risk assessments, and extensive training has been given to all staff still working on how to ensure the safety of themselves and our customers.
We have been talking to staff to find out if anyone has any specific health concerns of their own, or if they have vulnerable people at home who they are in regular contact with. This has been a determining factor in how we bring staff back to work, and we have taken steps such as furloughing those with health concerns, and enabling working from home where possible.
We now believe that we should be able to bring back almost all staff who cannot work from home, except those who are deemed to be ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’. Anyone in the ‘vulnerable’ category will be back to work once we can be certain that all the measures in place will be sufficient to ensure their safety.
Throughout our head office we have been looking for every opportunity to create additional space for staff to work and move safely around the site.
One of the first things the business did at the start of the outbreak was to enable working from home for as many employees as possible, and asked all staff to complete an assessment of their home working space to ensure they are still able to work comfortably and safely.
We have made use of the extra space made available by more staff working from home, which has allowed us to give more room to those who have to come into the offices to work.
Our personalisation team has seen some big changes to the layout of shelving and workstations, with many desks being taken out of the department, stock relocated to the warehouse, and a one way system put in place. We have also been marking two metre intervals along the walkways so that staff can easily see if they are too close to anyone.
In our main warehouse we have closed down half of the packing desks and additional walkways have been created by removing some shelving. We have put a strict rule of no passing in aisles in place, as well as trying to schedule time in the aisles for picking products for orders and filling up shelves.
Movement of persons and stock between buildings has been reduced to essential trips only.
All meetings are taking place by phone or video conference as much as possible.
As the government guidance is updated we will review all of the measures, but for the moment we are happy that staff are able to stay a safe distance apart from each other in all areas of the business.
There are limited areas of the business where this is an issue, and we have tried to address each area with its own solution.
The most frequent case of people from outside the business coming on to site are couriers and delivery drivers to the main warehouse. We cannot be entirely confident or in control of the actions of these drivers, but we have limited their access to the site. There should be no case where drivers need to enter our buildings.
By law we must make the toilets and water available for these drivers, but should this be requested we clean the facilities after they have been used.
Visits from representatives of other companies have been stopped since the beginning of the outbreak, with no plans to start them again anytime soon.
There may be times when contractors need to attend the site for maintenance or construction work to help with the safety measures. Where possible this will be done outside of working hours.
One of the first things we did when thinking about the risk and control measures we could put in place was stocking up on suitable cleaning supplies for every department.
Every area of the business has a good supply of antibacterial spray and paper towels, and safe places to dispose of the used cleaning materials. We also have gloves for staff to wear while cleaning.
Each department has a list of items which need to be cleaned regularly, and it is the supervisors’ and managers’ responsibility to make sure that these things are cleaned throughout the day.
Individual staff members will take responsibility for their own areas, and will be given instructions to clean their workstation before and after use each shift.
We have been fortunate that we have not had any suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 in our warehouse units, but should this happen we will take extra care. This will likely involve shutting for a day and carrying out a deep clean of the entire premises. The government has issued specific guidance on how to carry this out, which we will follow should the need arise.
The company has been constantly seeking the latest guidance on the use of face coverings within the workplace, and trying to adjust our instructions to staff accordingly.
It is clear that the use of gloves and face coverings cannot make up for a lack of adherence to the other safety measures which we all need to follow: handwashing and sanitising in work areas, keeping safe social distancing, thorough and regular cleaning, and avoiding work completely if you have symptoms.
We can source masks through our suppliers if we determine that there is a need for them. Staff will be aware of how to wear/remove, and dispose of, them safely before they can use them in the workplace. Staff will be given this guidance during their first shift back at work if they have been furloughed.
We will continue to seek guidance on PPE use, and may change our instructions based on any new information or changes to the workplace.
All department managers have been looking at options to make changes to their team’s working patterns to ensure a safe number of staff on site, and reduce this number to an absolute minimum where possible.
Some of our full time staff in certain departments have changed to 10 hour shifts to reduce the head count per day without losing hours in the day or having to reduce people’s contracted hours. We are continuing to look at long term changes which we may need to make to ensure safety well into the future.
We are also spreading shifts out more evenly across the week, which will mean that all departments have a higher staffing level at the weekends.
Another aspect of this is managing staff breaks, and common areas, to ensure social distancing. All staff areas have a capacity that cannot be exceeded, so the amount of people on break at any one time can be managed, and we will create extra areas for breaks where possible.
In line with government regulations, we are slowly re-opening our stores, but only when we as a business think it is possible to do this safely. We have additional guidelines in place to ensure that our staff will be safe during the day-to-day running of our shops and stands, and that our customers are at ease when browsing.
Training: all staff have been trained on a re-induction and are up to date on government guidance on COVID-19.
Cleaning: we will be undertaking a deep clean of the store before we open and after we close, as well as a rigorous cleaning schedule of all contact points throughout the day.
Washing hands: each member of staff has their own personal bottle of hand sanitizer and will be washing their hands regularly throughout the day.
Hand stamping: we are working on finding a supplier to provide us with a permanent visor for our hand-stamping units, but until then a face mask must be worn at all times. We will also be cleaning equipment and jewellery before and after the stamping.
Allocated assistance areas: we have allocated areas in our stores specifically for staff to safely assist our customers.
Replenishment of stock: we are processing all deliveries and replenishment of stock out of store hours, minimising the risk to the public and our staff.
Queueing: we have external queueing systems outside of our stores, with 2m floor markers to ensure social distancing.
Capacity: we are limiting the number of customers allowed in our stores to allow us to practice social distancing.
Directional travel: one-way travel is outlined by floor graphics and arrows, as well as 2m markers for practising social distancing. This is for the benefit of both staff and customers.
Do not touch: we encourage our customers to be mindful of what they touch or pick up in store to minimise risk of transmission.
Hand sanitiser: hand sanitiser stations are the entrances and exits to our stores and we encourage customers to use them.
Card payments: we are accepting card payments only to minimize the risk to our staff. No cash will be accepted in stores
Contactless Refunds: we will no longer require customer signatures for refunds. All refunds will be returned onto card or gift card. Items received for refunds will be quarantined for 72 hours before returning to the shop floor.
Click and collect: we will continue to offer this service in our stores.