Public protection services play an important part in keeping local communities safe and healthy and that’s taken on new meaning during the Covid-19 crisis as officers help businesses with every aspect of lockdown education and enforcement.

Here are 12 actions that you can take to help businesses in your area to stay Covid-19-safe for their employees and customers.

1. Keep up with rapidly changing legislation and guidance

Since March 2020, public protection regulations and guidance have changed much more frequently than before the Coronavirus pandemic. Creating a core knowledge team who are responsible for studying essential changes to legislation, and who become a source of up-to-date information for the rest of the team and the public, will help you to keep on top of the changes.

This knowledge team can then share new guidance with businesses and public protection officers, and also keep a dedicated page on your website updated with the latest information. Put clear links on your website homepage to this page and for enquiries and support, and let this central team handle all enquiries from businesses about the rules.

2. Constantly train your officers

With the guidance changing so frequently, holding regular training sessions to make sure your whole team understands all the requirements and the authority’s approach to enforcement is key. Work with neighbouring authorities to ensure consistency, since businesses may have sites in different areas.

Use technology solutions such as Microsoft Teams to host and record training sessions and to make it as easy as possible for people to attend. You could also take a ‘train the trainer’ approach, where competent officers who have been trained can then spread the new information across the wider team without taking resources from the core knowledge team.

3. Communicate to businesses

Make sure that businesses are aware of their responsibilities, especially when there’s been a change in lockdown tiers, by communicating clearly with them. This means sending notices and publishing updates online but, for some smaller businesses such as takeaways, it might be more appropriate to visit in person and speak to the owners.

Use all your council’s contact databases to reach as many businesses as possible.

4. Adapt service levels to changing circumstances

You need to be able to scale services to businesses up and down depending on the need of the moment and the resources you have available. Start by assessing the risk levels of the various services that you provide to ensure that the crucial, lifesaving ones are staffed regardless of your overall resource levels.

Set up a rapid response hub with a team of multi-disciplinary members who can respond to emergency situations at businesses.

5. Monitor compliance and use data to plan inspections

There are vast quantities of data available to you about the movement of people in high streets and shops, and you need analysts to help you to process it and spot trends. For example, based on trend analysis, we launched our ‘Good Friday’ project in North Tyneside to ensure that fish and chip shops were Covid-19-secure and able to deal with increased footfall on Fridays under the pandemic restrictions.

6. Tap into technology for field data capture

Google forms is useful for reporting issues and non-compliance on the spot. Get your team to do an up-to-date sweep on the businesses operating in the high street and use this accurate data as the baseline for ongoing data capture. Set up Whatsapp groups to share information quickly between secure work devices.

7. Do remote inspections

Capita’s new ResponsEye live video streaming technology enables officers to conduct inspections at business premises remotely, ensuring that audio and video footage is captured to an evidential standard should the authority need to rely on it in court.

8. Use social media

Publish messages about new regulations on social media to ensure that your consistent message reaches as wide an audience as possible. Highlight on social media when action has been taken against premises to demonstrate that you’ll take action when required.

You can also use social media as an open source intelligence gathering tool many residents would prefer to post on public social media groups about non-compliance than report it to the local authority.

9. Target your enforcement

Recording both the compliant and the non-compliant businesses in an area allows you to calculate the percentage of non-compliance per sector, and use this intelligence, combined with data on local infection rates, to plan your interventions.

Your next step is to establish the barriers to compliance for a particular sector or area that’s weak, so that you can support struggling businesses in achieving compliance.

10. Be prepared to work outside business hours when there is a change in tier

During the start of a lockdown or when there is a change in tier, your enforcement team should be at full capacity and ready to deal with any complaints or issues, even outside of normal business hours. At these times, reassure businesses that you’re able to respond to problems quickly.

11. Support workplaces where there have been outbreaks

Assist businesses with ‘track and trace’ activities and help them to carry on trading safely after an outbreak by sharing good practice, in particular regarding risk assessments.

This is an opportunity to build good relationships with businesses, and to reinforce the message that public protection aims to support those that are well-run and compliant and to help those that aren’t to become compliant.

12. Be a visible presence on the streets

To give reassurance to businesses, and to make sure that regulations are followed, it’s vital that your team members are seen to be present and active in the community.

The pandemic is challenging local authorities like nothing before. By following these 12 steps, public protection services can increase their level of support for and monitoring of businesses and help them to stay Covid-19-safe spaces for their customers and employees.

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Written by

James Armitage Bsc(Hons), MBA, CEnvH, MCIEH

James Armitage, Bsc(Hons), MBA, CEnvH, MCIEH

Regulatory Services Director

James is Capita’s Regulatory Services Director, responsible for leading operations at Capita’s two main Regulatory Services sites: the London Borough of Barnet and North Tyneside Council as well as a number of other sites including LB Lambeth and the Five Councils Partnership. He qualified as an Environmental Health Officer in 2001 and before joining Capita, managed a range of Environmental Health services for Westminster City Council including food, health & safety and licensing.

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