Statistics show that we are gaining control of COVID-19, but it is still very much amongst us. So how can you safely reopen your businesses now the Government has allowed you to do so? What are the most important things to consider when reopening?
Social distancing and personal/general hygiene
These are the Government guidelines showing on their website: Estate agents can open for business but should consider how and when to reopen their premises given government guidance on safer working. Estate agents should inform customers and their own staff about their procedures, so that they are safe throughout the sales process.
- Agents should ask whether any party is showing symptoms or has been asked to self-isolate before going ahead with any viewing, or visits to offices.
- Agents should operate using an appointment system for visits to their offices and when conducting viewings.
- Agents should not carry out any open house viewings.
- Agents should strongly encourage clients to view properties virtually in the first instance and then only physically inspect properties which they have a strong interest in.
- Agents can accompany physical viewings and seek to maintain a minimum of one metre plus distance from others wherever possible. Where social distancing is not possible and the visit is within an enclosed space, they should consider wearing a face covering in line with government guidance.
- Where they do not accompany the visit, they should make sure that both buyers and sellers clearly understand how the viewing should be conducted safely.
- Agents should not drive clients to appointments.
- All parties viewing a property should wash their hands with soap and water (or hand sanitiser if not available) immediately after entering the properties, with internal doors opened and surfaces having been wiped down before they enter. Separate towels or paper towels should be used if possible and washed or disposed of safely after use.
- Agents should do what they can to promote flexibility when arranging move dates, for example advising clients to ensure contracts have explicit terms to manage the timing risks presented by coronavirus.
- Agents should work with their clients and other agents to broker a new date to move where sales are due to complete and one of the parties falls ill with coronavirus or has to self-isolate.
- Agents should ensure that any keys are appropriately cleaned before handover.
Whilst you prepare our customer-facing areas to both protect and impress our customers accordingly, perhaps even more important are the disciplines observed by our employees.
Don’t lose your entire team to Track & Trace
Under the Track & Trace programme, a single employee testing positive who has not been observing distancing or hygiene rules could either have infected the team, or may report close contact resulting in many other employees being sent home. A single customer is unlikely to have that impact during their visit. Whilst we cannot always control what our customers do, we certainly can and indeed should control what our employees are doing.
You need to make sure that you have a full Health & Safety written assessment to ensure that your business is COVID-19 secure.
Critically you need to make sure that you have a full Health & Safety written assessment to ensure that your business is COVID-19 secure.
- This document should be detailed and comprehensive.
- It should identify the Hazards and the Risk that COVID-19 presents.
- The Objectives and the General Controls used to achieve the objectives.
- Social Distancing, how, where and when?
- Sanitisation and Hygiene, personal and premises, both on and off site.
- The need for Personal Protective Equipment?
- Working from Home and Lone Working hazards and risk.
Communication is vital. You need to consider how to convey the appropriate messages to both staff and customers. Importantly, your staff need to share and endorse the results of the Risk Assessment and your teams need to be trained in how to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19 disease, and indeed, how to react if they feel they are suffering from them.
Once these tasks are completed, you must sign and display the Government poster indicating that you have successfully complied with their advice on managing the risks of COVID-19 and are therefore ‘safe’ to be open for business.
If you are not already busy enough considering Risk Management, what about getting your staff back from furlough? You need to write a carefully-worded re-engagement letter. You may find that some employees are reluctant to return to work or carry out certain duties through a perceived fear of danger to their health. This is serious and carries significant risk.
You are duty bound to consider specifically any ‘vulnerable’ employees, especially those with underlying health conditions, or those whose families may be vulnerable. Employees should ensure that management is aware if they are suffering from any underlying health conditions. This should be recognised in the Risk Assessment.
If you do not manage this correctly and it turns into a dispute, it could develop into an employment tribunal case. Hence the need to carry out the COVID-19 Risk Assessment and to action any hazards it identifies. If you share the evidence of our Risk Assessment with them, we can then reassure our employees that it is safe for them to return to work.
Health & Safety – a reminder
Here is a quote from the Health & Safety Executive: “The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 dictates that employers have a duty to ensure the safety and welfare of their employees (so far as is reasonably practicable). The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations requires every organisation in the UK to undergo a pro-active process of risk management. Organisations must assess risk, create safe systems of working, communicate these to their employees and monitor and review their systems on a regular basis.
As an employer, you must use someone competent to help you meet your health and safety duties. Whoever you choose should have the skills, knowledge and experience to manage health and safety”. The competent person could be you, one or more of your workers, or someone from outside of your business.”
Table Manners is a Health & Fire Safety consultancy, formed seven years ago by Peter and Henry Stevens.
“Our client relationships are always personal, bespoke, and quite different to the usual Health & Safety company practice. You may need some assistance writing your COVID-19 Risk Assessment whilst you focus on getting back to selling and letting. Please get in touch.”