Returning to work as 2021 proceeds will become increasingly normal as more and more sectors are allowed to begin operating again. The government’s road map for how this will be done is called the COVID-19 Specific National Protocol for Employers and Workers, something that covers many industries, including hospitality and leisure. There are plenty of measures in it that both employers and employees will need to take into account, such as the use of pre-return to work forms and temperature testing, for example.
Of course, compliance with such measures is easier in some sectors of the economy than others. That is why it is so important to have the right sort of software management systems in place that will help to ensure the regulations are met in full. Facial recognition software, for example, is just one way that businesses will be able to speed up their approaches to fever screening because it will allow registered users to clock-in without having to touch anything. Equally, things like ESS portal online pre-return to work forms can now be rolled out which will enable managers to review all of their relevant submissions from team members.
In hospitality, which sees a relatively high number of employees interacting directly with customers, the need to be seen to be complying not just with the letter of the law but the spirit of it, too, will be even greater. Investing in the right sort of systems now will help to ensure that the reopening of Ireland’s economy from mid-May goes without any major incidents as the first phase of the process begins. Demand for such software systems is high, so getting them in place at an early stage is vital.
Needless to say, Advance Systems has the technology that can make such a big difference in this regard, systems that will function very well in hospitality sectors businesses of all sizes. In the meantime, read on to find out more about what the return to work programme is likely to mean for enterprises in the hospitality and leisure sectors as the country approaches its economic renaissance.
What Can the Hospitality Sector Do Today?
Under the government’s current rules, restaurants, which includes cafés and pubs that serve food, are able to operate. They are only allowed to provide takeaway and delivery services, however. Pubs which have no food offering must remain closed until the phased reopening of the economy allows them to start serving once more. The same goes for hairdressing businesses, barbershops and the beauty industry where personal services are administered, such as nail bars, for example. On the other hand, hotels are allowed to accept guests but these must be for what is defined as essential and non-social purposes. In other words, tourist bookings are not allowed but essential business stopovers are permitted.
It is important to add that where hospitality businesses are allowed to operate, a two-metre gap between workers should be allowed for. Employers have a responsibility to try and make this work wherever it is possible to do so, something that is not always easy in a restaurant kitchen, for example. Given that the government knows that a social distancing level of two metres is not always practical in the workplace, it is possible to bring this distance down to a minimum of one metre but, even so, the time workers spent in such proximity to one another should be minimised. In other words, workstations should be two metres or more apart but employees are allowed to get past one another at times to obtain provisions and utensils, for instance.
In summary, food preparation areas – which is where the majority of hospitality services are currently being undertaken – should be set up to make sure kitchen staff can keep their physical distance from one another. Steps employers need to make include:
- Minimising or preventing direct contact between staff members
- The provision of conveniently located hand washing facilities
- Offering additional hand sanitation, such as hand gels or wipes
- The provision of face coverings that meet the current public health advice criteria
- Setting a suitable limit on the number of kitchen staff who will share their workplace at any particular moment
- Organising employees into work patterns with the same group(s) to minimise their contacts
Managing the Regulations
Of course, many of these measures will already be known to responsible employers and managers in the hospitality sector. Those businesses which have not yet reopened will need to put similar measures in place when they are allowed to start trading once more, so they are certainly worth revisiting. Furthermore, it is also worth bearing in mind that some of the social distancing rules offer a degree of flexibility. Where a two-metre gap can be maintained, it should be but, depending on the nature of the hospitality business concerned, this is not always possible.
Managers who need to lower their physical distancing requirements, perhaps because of the size of the building the business operates in, can do so. By providing employees with personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing rules are able to be relaxed somewhat. However, this does not mean that providing PPE means businesses will be able to operate as normal for some time – it is simply that the rules allow for some flexibility. Furthermore, employeer have a responsibility with regards to the wearing of workplace uniforms or when there is a dress code in place. Any hotels or food outlets which have them, for example, must update their company policy to take account of the current regulations with respect to public health measures.
Reopening for Business
All employers have to show that they are geared up to follow the government’s return to work safety protocols. However, hospitality industry businesses should also comply with the guidelines set out by Fáilte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority. This details further measures that will allow more of the hospitality sector to reopen and, for those which are currently providing some services, to expand their offering.
According to Fáilte Ireland, commonly touched surfaces will need to be cleaned at least twice a day, for example. At a practical level, all updates surrounding sick leave and other COVID action plans will need to be communicated to employees in advance of their return. Restaurants and pubs will need to lower their usual music volume levels to reduce the need for people to raise their voices, too, as part of the return to work protocols. Further advice is available about the non-use of air-conditioning for the time being, too.
What Should Employees Be Responsible For in the Hospitality sector?
Of course, a great burden of responsibility for complying with the return to work protocols falls on business owners and managers, something that up-to-date software systems can certainly help with. That said, employees in the hospitality sector must also bear some of the responsibility for ensuring that they, their colleagues and the public remain safe. Current government advice for employees includes staff members taking individual responsibility for their hand hygiene. In short, this means that hands should be washed prior to shifts, before handling food, after handling waste, after using the toilet, after handling money and at the end of the shift.
Fáilte Ireland also recommends that staff meetings are held online rather than in person and that employees should make themselves available for COVID-19 training when it is offered. So far as reception duties are concerned, staff members should only work when they have a suitable medical kit and disinfectant wipes available to them. Furthermore, reception staff will need some disposable items of PPE to help them carry out their duties, such as gloves and an apron, so they can deal with any sanitisation issues that need to be cleared up as and when they occur.