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Social Distancing in the Workplace – Advice for Usdaw Members

Last Updated: 16 April

On 23 March 2020, to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the Government announced the most severe social distancing measures in British history.

Social distancing – unlike self-isolation – is not for people who are unwell, it is for everyone. The recommendation is to stay at home if at all possible.

While much of the country is in lockdown, there are still some places – including many workplaces in the grocery retail chain – where people still need to go to work.

Many workers are asking what they can do to protect themselves in the workplace, and what measures has their employer put in place to keep them safe.

Government advice
The Government has released advice on social distancing. This suggests that everyone who must leave their house, should try to take the following precautions:
  • Limiting face-to-face contact with anyone outside your household.
  • Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (such as high temperature and/or new and continuous cough).
  • Avoid non-essential use of public transport when possible.
  • Avoid large and small gatherings in public spaces.

For retail and other public premises which remain open, employers must:
  • Ensure a distance of two metres between customers and shop assistants; and
  • Let people enter the shop only in small groups, to ensure that spaces are not crowded.
  • Queue control is required outside of shops and other essential premises that remain open.

Workplace canteens can remain open where there are no practical alternatives. However, where possible, staff should be encouraged to bring their own food, and distributors should move to takeaway. Measures should be taken to minimise the number of people in the canteen at any one given time, for example by using a rota.

In addition to government advice, Usdaw is also encouraging all employers to promote the following:
  • Contactless payments wherever possible.
  • Encouraging customers to go shopping on their own wherever possible. Usdaw has been using social media to call on families not to use a visit to the supermarket as an excuse for everyone to get out of the house.
  • Stagger break times so that fewer people are in canteens and smoking areas at one time.
  • Cancel all ‘team huddles’ and non-essential meetings and find other ways to brief employees.

Some employers have taken additional measures to keep staff and customers safe. A summary of the approaches some supermarkets are taking is below. Please note these are just short summaries of the measures being taken by stores and the situation is changing constantly. For full details of the approach being taken by your own employer, speak to your union rep or local official.

  • Perspex shields at checkouts.
  • Floor vinyls to help customers observe Public Health England guidance when queueing at counters, checkouts, and the kiosk.
  • Use of till screens in stores to help with customer flow and queues.
  • Reminders throughout the store to keep one trolley length apart.
  • It has also put together essential 'food boxes' in order to reduce the amount of contact people have with others. These cost £35 for a family and a vegetarian option can also be ordered. They contain meat, eggs, pasta, vegetables and other staples.

  • Tesco has put tape on the floor of its shops to demonstrate safe distances at which to stand and is limiting the number of people allowed in shops.
  • All staff should maintain 2m distance between each other at all times while carrying out their duties.
  • All staff should be given time to regularly wash their hands. Checkout colleagues should call for assistance to be taken off for handwashing. This should be encouraged every 20 minutes.
  • Considering how colleague break times can be staggered so colleagues can sit at least 2m apart from each other.
  • Readily available hand sanitiser and cleaning products, including a supply of sanitiser at the backdoor for colleagues and delivery drivers to use.
  • Perspex shields should now be in place on all checkouts.
  • Queues outside and inside are being monitored for 2m distancing.
  • One trolley, one customer wherever possible.
  • Aisles should be closed off (either partial or full) to replenish using the extendable barriers.
  • Most of the time, every other mainbank checkout should be open. During peak periods, where every other mainbank checkout is at capacity, barriers have been introduced to place between checkouts to allow more checkouts to open to deal with the peak. These should not be in place all of the time.
  • Every other self-service checkout should be open. Barriers are also being rolled out to support additional self-service checkouts to open, however this should be during peak trading periods and not all of the time.

  • Clear 2m distancing guidelines for all colleagues and customers.
  • Allowing fewer people than usual in store with entry and distancing managed by designated colleagues.
  • Tape markers to help maintain 2m distancing in queues both inside and outside stores and at ATMs.
  • Closing every other payment point in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol filling stations.
  • Plastic screens should now be installed at all manned checkouts and desks for protection.
  • Increased provision of hand sanitizer for colleagues who do not have easy access to sinks.
  • Installing queue barriers at busier stores.
  • Asking customers to use cards at tills and cash at self-service checkouts where they can.
  • Colleague canteen tables moved to ensure 2m distance.

  • Limit the number of customers shopping in our stores at the same time. 5 customers for every 1000sqft.
  • 1 in 1 out policy. Additional labour will be given to support stores.
  • If customers are queuing outside encourage them to also maintain the 2m distance policy.
  • Only use every alternate Kiosk Till, AST, or belted checkout so that customers and colleagues are kept a safe distance apart.
  • Use tape to mark a distance at least 1 metre from the till drawer out onto the shop floor to help you and our customers keep their distance at checkouts.
  • Plastic screens have now been added to all checkouts.
  • When customers are paying encourage them to use card or contactless where possible. Signage has already been provided for this including on till message boards.
  • Keep a diluted bottle of D2.3 Sanitiser at the till point and regularly wipe down the counter top and chip & pin pad. Remember also, to regularly clean the AST’s and ATM’s.

  • Installing clear screens at checkouts at stores across the UK.
  • Shortening the working day to allow staff to rest, and for safe restocking of shelves.
  • Advising its colleagues and customers to observe Government advice on social distancing in stores.

  • "Two-metre marshals" in stores who will tell customers to stand at a greater distance from each other.
  • Limiting the number of customers who can come into the store.
  • Placing stickers on the floor at checkouts and at Welcome desks so that customers maintain a sufficient distance from one another.
  • Having marshals check that the 2-metre rule is being followed.
  • Installing protective checkout screens and special visors for staff.
  • Waitrose & Partners is part of discussions to increase the contactless limit to £45 to help customers make more use of contactless payment.


The wholesaler has put cones in place to enforce socially-distant queuing and has limited the numbers of those allowed in store.



In order to ensure that essential supplies continue to be available, distribution and support services for the food and pharmaceutical sectors will need to remain operational throughout the outbreak.

For other types of distribution, the picture is less clear. The Government’s announcement that non-essential retail shops must close does not extend to online and home delivery. In fact, they have actually said that “online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery service will run as normal”.

We are very concerned about this, because expecting people to go into work in non-essential businesses does not fit with Government advice to stay at home unless it is essential. Usdaw is clear that our members should not be put at risk, or face any detrimental impact, as a result of the Government advice. The Union has raised this with the Government and will continue to do so.

Businesses need to ask themselves whether it is really necessary and essential for their business to work normally. The Union is raising this question with employers. However, where workplaces are operational, they should be making adjustments to ensure that workers are safe. How this works will vary considerably between workplaces, but some examples of measures that might be taken are listed below:
  • Clear provisions for workers to keep at least 2 metres apart at all times, in line with Government guidance.
  • Ceasing two-person delivery operations for non-essential deliveries.
  • Additional sinks, provision of hand sanitiser and cleaning equipment for all work stations.
  • Thorough and regular cleaning of rollcages, VDUs and other equipment.
  • Increased hours for cleaning staff.
  • Staggered shift start times, with agreement, to reduce congestion.
  • Early shift finishes, and guarantee of overtime payments, where time spent leaving the site has increased due to queues adhering to social distancing.
  • Staggered break times along with extra break rooms with adequate rest facilities and additional smoking areas to ensure social distancing.
  • Support for office based staff to work from home.

In order to ensure that essential supplies continue to be available, manufacturing and processing in the food and pharmaceutical sectors will need to remain operational throughout the outbreak.

Government guidance for food businesses says:

“Food safety practices in food processing plants should continue to be delivered to the highest hygiene standards including the use of some personal protective equipment and frequent hand washing.

All employers are expected to follow social distancing guidance, including food businesses, as far as is reasonably possible. Where the production environment makes it difficult to do so, employers should consider what measures may be put in place to protect employees. Once staff have left the food processing areas and removed protective clothing, social distancing and further hand washing guidance should be adhered to.”

We would expect employers in food or other manufacturing sites to go further than this minimum guidance and make every effort to ensure social distancing in processing areas, as well as ensuring social distancing away from food processing areas.

How this is achieved will vary between workplaces but it may include rearranging production lines, adjusting shift patterns (with agreement from staff), reducing pinch points where workers work more closely together and allowing additional breaks for handwashing and changing protective clothing. To ensure all workers have access to adequate and safe rest facilities, additional break areas should be opened wherever possible.

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