Since the outbreak of COVID-19 many businesses have temporarily closed following guidance from the Government. Alternatively, some have closed following concerns raised about their ability to comply with the Government advice relating to the methods that they should adopt, to protect their workforce and customers whilst continuing to trade.

COVID-19 causes respiratory illness in humans, usually resulting in mild symptoms including runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever. Some individuals experience more severe symptoms and it can lead to pneumonia, breathing difficulties and in rare cases death.

Many businesses, particularly in the manufacturing and construction sectors are now facing a situation where there is a need for them to re-open to protect the long-term interests of the company, as well as ensuring they service the needs of their customers.

Some businesses are unsure of the current situation with regards to what constitutes an essential business. The below extract is from a recent letter from the Secretary of State, dated 8th April 2020 in relation to manufacturing and industry:

“To those working in manufacturing and industry in the UK

At this unprecedented time for the UK I want to pay tribute to you for the work you are doing to keep the UK economy going.

As you know, the Government’s priority is saving lives and we have advised that where possible, people should stay at home and work from home. However, our country needs your support to keep supply chains moving and key workers mobile, as well as to protect the economy as much as possible. Every business has a role to play in helping the country defeat coronavirus. 

Manufacturing is a critical part of our economy and I would like to be clear that there is no restriction on manufacturing continuing under the current rules. Guidelines from Public Health England provide best practice advice on how this can be done safely”.

This letter is confirmation that manufacturing companies can continue to operate providing they comply with the current rules / guidelines from Public Health England and associated Government Agencies.

In recent weeks we have assisted clients to not only re-open, but also do so in a manner which ensures compliance with the rules / guidelines referenced above, providing key legislative documentation such as risk assessments to compliment the specific control measures adopted within the respective company.

Case Study 1 – Northern Ireland Plastics Ltd:

The client is a small manufacturing company employing just over 50 employees in a range of administrative, production and maintenance roles.

The company had temporarily closed for business at the end of March and furloughed staff having come under intense pressure to close from concerned employees, and local politicians.

However, in recent weeks the company has seen a loss of orders to overseas competitors who have managed to stay open throughout the pandemic. These are orders and indeed customers which will be difficult to retrieve in the future.

Therefore, the company decided to re-open business week commencing 20th April 2020. Letters were sent to all employees advising them of the proposed return to work and the date of re-opening.

Within hours the company was inundated with correspondence from concerned employees, and a local politician. The HSENI had also been contacted by employees; they liaised with the company in relation to the proposed re-opening initially by email.

Once again, the client contacted us for assistance, we reviewed the current practices, and agreed additional control measures that were required to comply with the advice / guidance from Government Agencies prior to re-opening.

It was the view of the company that although many employees had concerns about returning to work in the current climate, there were also those who were reluctant to return to work as they were financially supported by the furloughed scheme and the return to work would not offer them any great financial benefits.

On 20th April 2020, the morning of the re-opening we attended site prior to staff arriving, reviewed the control measures with management, and then in conjunction with management conducted a series of meetings with staff, listening to their concerns, explaining the control measures the company had introduced to facilitate social distancing, hygiene, provision of Personal Protective Equipment, and control of persons on site etc. 

During the meetings management also explained the potential impact on business if production did not restart. Following the meeting we contacted the HSENI directly by telephone, detailed the progress made, control measures in place and communications with staff.

The HSENI were very supportive and complimentary of the measures the company had taken and explained that they were inundated with calls / complaints from employees from companies throughout Northern Ireland regarding the proposed re-opening of their work activities.

Following the telephone conversation it was agreed that we would produce a report and site specific risk assessment for the HSENI detailing the measures taken on site to ensure compliance with the advice / guidance provided by the various Government Agencies- this report and associated risk assessment was forwarded to the HSENI within 24 hours.

To ensure the company was fully supported in all aspects of the re-opening we liaised with all shifts prior to the commencement of works, including night shift staff, assisting management with the answering of any queries raised, and we are pleased to announce that the company has now re-opened and is manufacturing as planned.

Case Study 2: Global Manufacturing Company

The client is a medium sized manufacturing company employing over 300 employees in a range of administrative, production and maintenance roles.  The company was coming under intense pressure to close from concerned employees, Trade Union representatives, and local politicians

The Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) and the Public Health Agency had also been contacted by employees; they liaised with the company in relation to the activities taking place on site and the control measures in place.

The company services a global supply chain and failure to meet customer demands would have undoubtedly resulted in a loss of customer confidence and potentially future business.

The client contacted us for assistance, we attended site, reviewed current practices, identified additional control measures that should be introduced, liaised with staff, completed a site specific Covid-19 risk assessment, formulated a report detailing the company strategy to ensure compliance going forward which was provided to both the Health & Safety Executive Northern Ireland and the Public Health Agency for review.

Within 24 hours both the HSENI and the Public Health Agency contacted the company, stating that they were happy for the company to continue manufacturing based on the documentation provided and the new control measures introduced.

The control measures introduced were cost effective, and easy to apply, with personal hygiene and social distancing within the workplace key factors in ensuring compliance with the advice / guidance provided by the respective Government Agencies.

These are difficult times, certainly unprecedented in our lifetime; companies have many challenges in the months and years ahead, with no established road maps from previous experiences as to how to do so.

Once such challenge is the re-opening of the business in compliance with the advice / guidance provided by the respective Government Agencies. Thankfully following the work we have completed in recent weeks assisting clients with such matters we now have a clear understanding of the safe methods to adopt, and can use this experience to assist your business with re-opening in a safe and efficient manner.

Click on the button below to see how we assisted a company to return from Furlough.

Testimonial - Northern Ireland Plastics Ltd

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Willis Insurance and Risk Management, Willis Wealth Management and Accident Investigation Services are trading names of Willis & Company (Insurance Brokers) Ltd, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority - 309124. Registration No. NI 32004. Registered in Northern Ireland.

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