Businesses across Cumbria are facing the challenge of returning to work in a way that keeps their staff and customers as safe as possible from infection by coronavirus.

James Woolgrove, who runs health and safety consultancy Heritage Health and Safety and is a former chair of the South Cumbria Occupational Health and Safety Group, has been working with businesses in the county to help them do just that.

He says initially it is important to be clear on the how the virus is transmitted, which either comes through contact with airborne droplets from people’s noses or mouths or by touching surfaces where the virus is present.

James says one useful way of thinking about airborne transmission is to imagine how far a ping pong ball would go if it came out of your mouth.

With this in mind, he says people can begin to think about what measures such as protective screens they need to put in place in their premises.

When it comes to surfaces, he says handwashing and regular cleaning of common touch points is important to have in place but adds: “There is no need to buy expensive sanitisers and wipes and that sort of thing, because actually hot soap and water does just as good a job."

He says soap and water also reduce the risk of people developing respiratory conditions associated with inhaling cleaning sprays.

“If you are going to use sprays put it on a cloth and wipe rather than spraying, because spraying is actually putting particles into the atmosphere,” he says.

“We need to be careful that with all this additional cleaning we don’t build up more asthma.”

He says ventilation is also an important consideration as this can help disperse the virus.

“The more ventilation we can put inside the better,” he says.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the hospitality sector should be able to reopen on July 4.

James has been working with a restaurant to help them prepare.

He says as well as reducing the number of customers they can cater for to maintain social distancing, the restaurant is considering using a trolley to serve meals, with people picking up their own plates from the trolley.

“They’ll bring the trolley back and sanitise it and then place the next meals on it,” he says.

“We’ve decided to have one team clearing tables and one team laying tables, just because you don’t want people who are clearing tables to be handing food out.”

He says businesses need to be aware of potential scams with companies claiming to sell diffusers which can disinfect whole areas against Covid-19, but were unlikely to be effective.

“They have got lots of nice scientific sounding words and a website,” he says.

“It claims it sends out a wave that kills the Covid virus but won’t kill anything else.

"You need to maintain a healthy scepticism.”

As with health and safety in general, he says it is important for staff to raise any concerns they have with their employer immediately and for employers to communicate clearly with staff around what measures they are taking as they reopen.

He says that as people begin returning to work and going to shops and restaurants it is inevitable more people will get infected.

The only thing businesses can really do is to reduce the risk of infection in an effort to keep the rate down.

But, the risk of infection aside, he says employers also need to have a keen eye on the mental health of employees as they come back to work.

This is especially true if they have become used to spreading their working day over more irregular hours.

“Coming back to work after either being furloughed or working at home is a massive change for their brains to cope with,” he says.

“People are going to feel exhausted after that first week.

“What has happened in their lives in the last three months? Have they lost a relation to Covid? How is their relationship after isolating with their partner? All of those things shouldn’t just be brushed under the carpet and hidden.”

There are also practical tasks to attend to before people return to the office, such as making sure the plumbing has been properly flushed and sterilising shower heads.

“We don’t want legionella to take over where Covid has left off,” says James.

Careful consideration also has to be given to how to run fire drills effectively and maintain social distancing.

“How are you going to run assembly points in a socially distanced manner, things like that really need to be considered,” he says.