Maintaining physical distancing

Last updated: 05 Aug 2021

In conjunction with Prospect reps, employers must carry out a risk assessment to establish how they will stop the coronavirus being transmitted between people.

A risk assessment is a systematic process of establishing what can cause people harm at work, and taking steps to prevent that harm from occurring. The Health and Safety at Work Act requires risk to be as low as is “reasonably practicable”.

The risk assessment must consider all people on site, including contractors. Prospect reps will have good knowledge of working practices, so the employer must engage with them during this process.

Understanding how the virus is transmitted will help to establish what steps are needed to control the risk. Different modes of transmission will require different measures to address them.

The source of the virus is respiratory particles from a person who has COVID-19. Coughing, sneezing, talking and breathing produce particles of different sizes. The larger particles, which tend to be known as droplets, will fall to the ground or onto surfaces. The smaller particles, which tend to be known as aerosols, can stay buoyant in the air for longer and will be dispersed around a room.

Therefore, there are three routes via which people can be exposed to the virus in the environment.

  1. The smaller particles, or aerosols, can be breathed in
  2. The larger particles, or droplets, can fall onto the eyes, nose and mouth
  3. Particles that have deposited on surfaces can be touched and the contamination transferred to the eyes, nose or mouth

Some factors will increase risk. These are:

  • Proximity: risk increases with shorter distance and face to face
  • Enclosure: risk is higher indoors and increases with poor ventilation
  • Duration: risk increases the longer you are closer to an infectious person
  • Activity: singing, loud speaking, aerobic activity etc increase viral emission and breathing rate
  • Crowding: the more people, the greater the chance of encountering someone with the virus
  • Environmental: the virus survives in cool, dark and dry conditions

Some methods of controlling the risk are more effective than others. Employers must speak to Prospect reps about how they intend to prioritise the most effective measures that will protect the most people.