Getting back to work safely

4 mins read

As the UK begins to return to work following the COVID-19 lockdown, MM speaks to David Evison, MD of safety specialists, Arco, about face masks and the practicalities of getting back to work safely.

What are the main challenges for business owners in getting employees back to work?

Many businesses face the challenge of introducing entirely new procedures to manage the risk of the COVID-19 virus spreading in their workplace.To do this they have to write a full risk assessment to illustrate that they have done everything possible to manage that risk and to many companies who might not have done this before this is a daunting task. The Government has issued a set of guidelines to ensure a safe return to work However, many business owners and managers are concerned about how these should be met, as well as the measures they need to put in place to ensure they are compliant and fully protecting their employees. Employees themselves are looking for reassurance from their employer that they have done all they can to provide a safe working environment for them.

Many businesses are also possibly purchasing types of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that they haven’t had to buy before.How do they know what to buy?How can they be sure they are buying the right products and that they are fully compliant and meet the right standards? This is where working with a trusted supplier is really critical because a company like ours has the expertise to help businesses make the right decisions and provide them with the reassurance they need.

Why has there been such an influx in fake and/or non-compliant PPE products on the market since the pandemic started?

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a huge surge in global demand for PPE products. This has led to a shortage of supply, making the marketplace complicated and stressful for those needing to secure supplies urgently.

In some cases, new suppliers have emerged, taking advantage of the increased demand for different types of PPE and introducing poor quality and non-compliant products that may not have been tested or correctly certified to UK safety standards.There has also been a large increase in PPE that has been tested to different international standards which are not suitable for use in UK industry. This could be putting lives at risk.

Our recommendation is that customers work with companies like Arco, that can provide assurance on product quality and conformity. We have our own, independently accredited, product testing lab on site to test for counterfeit products and we are working with trading standards authorities to help identify instances of non-compliant products coming on to the market.

You recently secured a huge order of face masks (pictured, below) – tell us more about it.

With a strong and well-established international supply chain network, we have secured a supply of 40m Type II masks and 90m Type IIR masks. These are currently being delivered in batches over the next couple of months to our 400,000sqft National Distribution Centre (NDC) in Hull. A series of 20 trucks have been arriving in a carefully timed schedule to deliver the first 19m masks to the front line. It’s an effort that we are really proud of.These type of masks are now urgently needed in the UK, with Type II masks or face coverings a requirement on public transport and other working or social environments where social distancing is not possible.We are working with a number of leading UK businesses, such as Transport for London to fulfil their requirements for these masks.

What are your main recommendations for businesses on selecting the right face masks?

We are issuing specific guidance on the use of face masks to enable customers to select the right product for their needs and also ensure that the higher levels of protective equipment are issued only where necessary. This is particularly important for companies specifying face masks for the first time.

For example, Type II face masks are suitable for most workplace situations, where masks are being issued with the objective of preventing the transmission of Covid-19 virus from one person to others.Type IIR splash resistant medical face masks are required in clinical settings to protect the wearer against contaminants contained in splashes of blood or bodily fluids.

Again, these guides are available free to download from our website.

How has the scale of your operation helped you with the practical side of responding to the pandemic?

As a business with expertise in emergency response, our priority from the outset was protecting our colleagues and supporting our existing customers. Our recent £30m investment in a 220,000 sq. ft. expansion of our national distribution centre almost trebled our storage capacity and enabled us to cope with the exceptional demand by more than doubling our dispatch capabilities, which allowed us to distribute 100 pallets a day with 5,000 parcels.

To do this, the warehouse transitioned into a 24/7 operation throughout the height of the pandemic to service the increased level of orders. This allowed us to prioritise large critical orders for the NHS and food industry, in order to keep the country running.

We’re extremely fortunate that as a family-owned business we have always been able to invest during times that other businesses could not and we have seen the benefits of that here, enabling us to be a key player in the international supply chain of PPE. We are proud to play our part in the fight against this virus and helping to save lives.

How can a business like Arco support businesses getting back to work safely after lockdown?

We have a deep understanding of today’s workplace safety requirements, as well as experience in product sourcing and selection. Using this wealth of expertise, we have created a series of Covid-19-focused expert advice sheets, starting with risk management and advice on risk assessments, they also cover topics such as hand washing and sanitising, social distancing, cleaning regimes, use of face masks and selecting the right type and, most importantly, how to identify non-compliant or falsely certified PPE.All this information is free to download from our website and Arco experts are also available to work with customers to find the right solution for them.