Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers must take all reasonable steps to protect their staff from harm. Of course, this applies on a day-to-day basis when you're only dealing with the expected occupational hazards that come with your line of work, but it also means you need to respond to any other risks that present themselves along the way.

As the world deals with the current coronavirus crisis, and we're seeing more and more misinformation being spread every day, you might be finding it difficult to work out what you need to be doing. To help you out, I'm going to outline some of the most important steps you should be taking to keep your manufacturing workers safe during a pandemic. Take these tips on board to give your staff the best chance of staying fit and healthy.

Send all but essential workers home (with pay)

If your services are going to be essential during a pandemic, you might have to make the difficult decision to keep your factory open for as long as possible. This means, while a lot of the UK's residents will be working from home or taking leave from their jobs, some of your staff will still have to come in. If this is the case, it's important that you assess whether you could pare your operations back and allow some people to stay home.

There are a number of factors you should consider when deciding who should stay on at work, and who can take paid leave. For example, is there a small core team who could keep things ticking over for the time being? It's also wise to listen to any of your employees' concerns — are some people more at risk because they have to take public transport to work, or are there people who live with particularly vulnerable family members? Asking your workers about their individual circumstances will help you to make an informed decision that's best for both them and the business.

Install handwashing stations in easy to access spots

Respiratory diseases like COVID-19 are typically spread when mucus or droplets containing the virus get into your body via your eyes, mouth, or nose. And, this is most likely to happen if your hands aren't clean (UNICEF). Therefore, in order to help boost your employees' hygiene and keep their hands as clean as possible throughout the pandemic, it's very important that you give them plenty of handwashing stations that they can easily access as frequently as they need to.

Soap and water will be the most effective but, if there aren't enough sinks in your factory, you could also provide your staff with their own bottles of hand sanitiser. Put up posters that stress the importance of regularly washing their hands, and remind your workers whenever you get the chance. It's also a good idea to make sure they know exactly how they should be washing their hands. The NHS has a handwashing tutorial that you can show your employees to stress how important good hygiene is.

Provide them with the appropriate PPE

You're sure to provide your staff with the personal protective equipment they need to stay safe on a regular day. But, amid a pandemic, it's important that you consider whether some new pieces could be added to their kit. Masks, eye protection, overalls, and gloves can all help to limit the risk of your staff spreading the virus among themselves, so it's well worth having them on hand for your staff during the pandemic. Offer them some initial training on how each piece of PPE should be worn and disposed of. You should also check in on a regular basis to ensure everyone is following your guidance.

Step up your cleaning regime

Research has found that the coronavirus can survive for up to two or three days on certain surfaces (BBC), and other viruses can last even longer, which means you need to be taking your workplace cleaning regime even more seriously than usual. Make sure your premises is given a thorough clean at the end of each day, and provide your staff with supplies like disinfectant wipes and sprays, which they can use to keep their own workstations clean. You should also check in with them regularly to see if there's anything in particularly that they would like added to their cleaning kit.

This is a very uncertain time for manufacturers here in the UK but, above all else, it's vital that you keep your staff safe. Take these tips on board and follow the latest advice given by both the NHS and UK government to ensure you're taking all of the necessary precautions to prevent an outbreak among your staff.