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Covid-secure hospitality – applying government guidelines in the food takeaway and delivery sector

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United Kingdom

As sections of the UK economy are told they can resume operations, the government has produced "Covid-secure" guidance for restaurants offering takeaway and delivery services.

  The UK government has released "Covid-secure" guidelines for restaurants offering takeaway and delivery services, while suggesting separately that regular 'eat-in' services in restaurants will not be permitted to resume before July.
 
The restaurant guidelines apply broadly to any businesses involved in food preparation and food service setting, encompassing bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes, food-to-go vendors, food delivery, takeaways, mobile catering and food services provided by businesses (such as office canteens).
 
The restaurant guidelines should be considered in conjunction with the government's further guidance for food businesses, which was updated on 25 April 2020.
 
The fundamental principles that apply are similar to Covid-19 secure guidelines for other industries and are broadly as follows:
 
1. Covid-19 risk assessments
 
In addition to the work specific risk assessment that is already required for food businesses, a Covid-19 risk assessment will need to be undertaken and should be completed before operations resume.
 
Practically, this may mean that for some food businesses which have been operating in some capacity, they should halt their operations and only resume them once a Covid-19 risk assessment has been undertaken.
 
Although risk assessments are not meant to be cost or resource-intensive exercises, employers who implement all the comprehensive measures are likely to incur significant costs and time in redesigning their workplaces and operations, which will be at their own expense.
 
The risk assessment must be in done in consultation with unions or workers and employers must make sure the risk assessment addresses the risks of Covid-19.
 
Employers should consult with their workers and a health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union, or a representative chosen by workers, although there is no further guidance on what to do in the event that risk assessments cannot be agreed.
 
There may be strong pushback by a number of workers and trade unions in connection with risk assessments within the food service sector, due to the nature of the work and the need for proximity to other workers for certain tasks.
 
The restaurant guidelines make clear that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will seek to take enforcement actions against operators who do not have robust risk assessments in place.
 
2. Knowing your workforce
 
Employers should consider who among their workforce can work from home and should identify clinically vulnerable individuals (CVIs) and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (CEVIs).
 
CEVIs have been advised not to work outside the home, and employers should abide by this.
 
If CVIs cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on site-roles, enabling them to stay two metres away from others. If they have to spend time within two metres of others, employers must carefully assess whether this involves an acceptable level of risk, although it is unclear what this means in practice and in reality will be a subjective assessment.
 
3. Social distancing
 
The control measures that need to be implemented once a risk assessment is completed will broadly cover social distancing and hygiene, which are the most effective ways of tackling the spread of COVID-19.
 
Where social distancing cannot be maintained for a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and if so, the business should take all mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff.
 
Mitigating actions include further handwashing provisions, keeping activities as short as possible, using protective screens and using back-to-back or side-to-side working.
 
Social distancing control measures should be considered in food preparation areas such as kitchens, including allowing as few people as possible to access kitchens, putting teams into shifts to restrict the number of workers interacting with each other, providing floor marking to signal distances of two metres and minimising access to walk-in pantries, fridges and freezers.
 
Employers should pay close attention to areas and entrances/exits which are at risk of overcrowding and implement measures to minimise the spread of infection, including staggering entry/exit times, opening more entrances and exits, providing storage for staff clothes and bags and requesting staff change into work uniforms on site, using appropriate facilities that maintain social distance.
 
The guidance remains that public spaces must stay closed to avoid transmission risks, so any food consumption areas within restaurants offering a takeaway service should be clearly signed as off limits.
 
4. Hygiene
 
Before reopening food preparation or service premises, employers should ensure the site or location is clean and ready to restart.
 
Food businesses should check whether workspaces are suitably ventilated and whether they need to service or adjust ventilation systems, although this may be an expensive exercise for many small or mid-sized food businesses.
 
Food businesses are already subject to strict requirements to keep food preparation and food service areas clean and the new Covid-secure restaurant guidelines extend these by providing practical guidance on what else employers can do.   
 
Employers should provide additional handwashing/hand sanitisation facilities in multiple areas as well as washrooms. Employees and others should be reminded by regular signage and communication of good hygiene and handwashing techniques.
 
Enhanced cleaning should be deployed for busy areas and more waste facilities should be provided for employees and others that may come into contact with the business.  
 
Considerations when implementing restaurant guidance
 
Although the restaurant guidelines are welcome, many food businesses and particularly small or medium sized food businesses may feel overwhelmed by the health and safety requirements stipulated in the guidelines.
 
Some may not be able to implement sweeping changes to their business, including redesigning workplaces to accommodate social distancing and putting in place comprehensive hygiene facilities.
 
If food businesses are currently operating, they need to review the restaurant guidelines to ensure they are meeting their statutory obligations and best practice recommendations.
 
If a food business is due to resume operations, it should consult the restaurant guidelines first to avoid being caught out.  
If you have any health and safety-related questions or concerns about your business in light of the coronavirus outbreak, Fieldfisher's health and safety would be happy to discuss your specific circumstances with you.
 

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